Catalonia: threat to impose massive fines on ex-minister sparks outcry | Catalonia
Threats of massive fines against Catalan economist and former finance minister Andreu Mas-Colell for his alleged role in the failure of Catalonia’s independence bid in 2017 have drawn international condemnation.
Mas-Colell, 76, who was finance minister from 2010 to 2016, is among 40 officials, including former Catalan presidents Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont, accused by a court of having illegally used 4.8 million dollars. euros of public money between 2011 and 2017 to advance the cause of independence.
In an open letter, 53 economists, including 33 Nobel Laureates, wrote: “We are deeply concerned about the news and the situation of Professor Andreu Mas-Colell, one of the best known and most respected economists in Spain, concerning the procedures of the court of public accounts. “
Mas-Colell retired from political life in 2016 and was not part of the government led by Puigdemont which declared independence in 2017. The fines, which could reach millions of euros, are expected to be announced on Tuesday.
The economist, who founded the prestigious Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies and was shortlisted for a Nobel Prize, has not spoken publicly about the case, but his son, Alex Mas Silberstein, an economist at the Princeton University said his father could be ruined.
“In two weeks, my parents’ home, pension and bank account could be seized by state authorities, without due process,” he tweeted. “The claim is that the Catalan government used public funds to promote Catalan independence, and in particular the 2017 referendum, abroad. He seems to be targeted because he was responsible for the execution of budgets voted by parliament.
The Public Accounts Tribunal oversees public spending, reports to parliament, and has audit and jurisdiction powers. In 2017, the court put the homes of former President Mas and three of his ministers under embargo instead of the 5.3 million euros that would have been spent to organize an independence referendum in 2014.
Whatever Mas-Colell’s involvement, there is no doubt that successive Catalan governments have spent large sums in an attempt to ‘internationalize’ independence, despite the fact that less than half of the population supports the cause. This has included the opening of at least 16 “embassies” in Europe and the Americas.
The case risks undermining a call for “dialogue and understanding” made by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez last week after pardoning the nine Catalan politicians jailed for their role in the declaration of independence.
As Mas-Colell supports Catalan independence and has long claimed that Spain is depriving the region of its revenue, this move is likely to reinforce the widely held view in Catalonia that the Spanish justice system is a political instrument and that the Catalan nationalists are punished for their ideas.
In an apparent effort to downplay the impact of the case, Sánchez said on Monday that any court ruling would not be final and could be subject to appeal in court.
In addition, the Spanish justice system has also been the subject of close scrutiny by the United Nations rapporteur for adequate housing, who took an interest in a case judged Monday in Barcelona in which the defendants face three years in prison for to demonstrate peacefully against the expulsion and moral harassment. .
The UN has requested a report from the Tenants Union, whose spokesperson Jaime Palomera is one of three accused of threatening and coercive behavior.
The others, Fran Ortega, 35, and Alpha Mikeliunas, 36, joined the Staying Put union campaign in 2018 after the owner threatened to evict them from the apartment they had occupied since 2010. The threat came. after the couple complained about the condition of the building infested with rats and termites and whose water had been declared non-potable. The local authority fined the owner € 180,000 for negligence and harassment.
The three were among dozens of people who demonstrated outside a beauty salon owned by the owner, a member of a branch of the Fradera family, one of the 200 richest in Spain.
In 2019, the owner filed a complaint claiming that protesters used coercion and intimidation to keep employees at the beauty salon from going about their business. Palomera said the presiding judge refused to accept video and oral evidence from journalists and two Catalan lawmakers showing that the protest was entirely peaceful.
“Under Spanish law a landlord can evict a tenant without cause, but we believe human rights transcend the law and Alpha and Fran have the right to negotiate a reasonable rent,” Palomera told the Guardian.
“The people of Barcelona have created a peaceful movement against real estate speculation that the owners, who have always done what they wanted, do not accept. This is the subject of this trial.