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Ex-Catalan premier barred from office for two years over independence vote

Artur Mas and two top aides also receive bans and fines in trial over unofficial plebiscite in 2014

Artur Mas, the former premier of Spain’s Catalonia region, has been barred from public office for two years for using his position to hold a non-binding plebiscite on the issue of independence for the region on November 9, 2014 despite the ballot having been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court. The former premier had “perverted democratic principles,” said the Catalan regional High Court, handing down on Monday the maximum possible sentence for disobedience.

Sentencia Artur Mas
Artur Mas after learning of the sentence on Monday. ATLAS

Ex-deputy premier Joana Ortega and ex-education chief Irene Rigau were also hit with bans from office – Ortega for 21 months and Rigau for 18 months – for their role in the “participatory process.”

The court also ordered Mas to pay a fine of €36,500 while that sum was €30,000 for Ortega and €24,000 for Rigau.

The Catalan court noted Artur Mas had done nothing to prevent the vote going ahead 

All three were found not guilty, however, on charges of gross misconduct.

Prosecutors had originally called for Mas to be hit with a ten-year public ban on charges of disobedience and gross misconduct and for Rigau and Ortega to be barred for nine years.

The three defendants have announced they will appeal the 98-page ruling, which sees them barred from holding any form of public office at “local, regional or state level.”

Rigau – the only member of the group to currently hold public office – will be able to continue carrying out her duties as a deputy in the regional party with the pro-independence Junts pel Sí group during the appeals process. But the ruling complicates the political future of Artur Mas as Spanish electoral law dictates he is unable to present himself as a political candidate until the conclusion of the appeals process.

Mas, who stepped down as the region’s premier in 2015 after failing to win support for his candidacy from coalition partners in the regional parliament, is expected to run as a candidate with the Democratic Party of Catalonia (PDECat), formerly known as Convergència, in upcoming regional elections. But the ruling means he is currently ineligible to do so.

The court ordered Mas to pay a fine of €36,500 while that sum was €30,000 for Ortega and €24,000 for Rigau

In its ruling, the court named Mas as the mastermind behind the decision to hold the non-binding independence vote in 2014, which had been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court just days earlier.

Mas was “perfectly aware of the content and the effects” of the regional resolution to push on with the vote but did nothing to stop it going ahead,” the court stated, noting work had continued on projects including, for example, a publicity campaign and the organizing of insurance for volunteers participating in the plebiscite even after the Constitutional Court’s ruling had been handed down.

The Catalan court also dismissed arguments from Mas that the Constitutional Court’s ruling had been unclear and that he had not been notified personally of the decision. Mas’s argument that he had found himself trapped in a political dilemma and having to choose between obeying the Constitutional Court’s ruling and the “noise from the street” calling for a referendum was also dismissed.

“There was no express will to commit any crime or to disobey anybody,” said Mas during the trial in February.

Mas and his fellow defendants were acquitted of charges of gross disobedience

Around 2.3 million people voted in the “participatory process” held on November 9, 2014 out of an eligible voter pool of 6.3 million, according to the regional government’s own figures.

Although 80% voted in favor of independence, it was dismissed by international observers as lacking sufficient guarantees of objectivity, given that it was organized and counted by pro-sovereignty activists and that many detractors of independence simply did not participate.

English version by George Mills.

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