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Public prosecutors uphold rebellion charge against Catalan independence leaders

Prosecution seeks 25-year prison term against ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras, but Solicitor General rules out rebellion and seeks 12 years for sedition and misuse of funds

Junqueras
Catalan independence leaders Raül Romeva, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Turull, Oriol Junqueras, Josep Rull, Jordi Cuixart, Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa and Jordi Sànchez.. AFP

The public prosecution on Friday morning filed its written accusation against Catalan secessionist leaders who are in pretrial detention for their role in the unauthorized referendum of October 1, 2017 and the unilateral independence declaration that followed.

As expected, prosecutors are seeking a 25-year prison term for ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras for rebellion and misuse of public funds, and they also want the Catalan Republican Party (ERC) leader barred from holding public office for the next 25 years.

Mr Sánchez has been acting like the defense attorney for the coup plotters for several days

José Manuel Villegas, Ciudadanos

Prosecutors are also seeking 17-year jail terms for Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, the former heads of civic associations that campaigned actively for independence, and for Carme Forcadell, the former speaker of the Catalan parliament. Other defendants in the upcoming trial face penalties ranging from economic fines to prison terms of 16 years.

Meanwhile, Spain’s Solicitor General, who represents the Spanish state in the courts, has not accused Catalan secessionist leaders of rebellion. Instead, the written accusation focuses on the crimes of sedition and misuse of public funds in connection with the referendum and unilateral independence declaration.

In its written accusation, the Solicitor General’s Office has called for Junqueras to be sentenced to 12 years in prison and a 12-year ban on holding public office.

The Solicitor General’s Office, which answers to the Justice Ministry, ruled out the rebellion charge against nine separatist leaders who are in pretrial detention for their role in the breakaway attempt. Rebellion was the most serious of all the accusations against them, and it underpinned the Supreme Court’s criminal inquiry into the unilateral independence push.

Junqueras not hopeful

ERC leader Oriol Junqueras.
ERC leader Oriol Junqueras.

Miquel Noguer

Speaking from Lledoners penitentiary in Barcelona, Junqueras said that he is not expecting any “gesture” from the government to help reduce the prosecution’s charges against him. “I would rather not harbor any hope, because up to now they have always opted for the toughest solution,” he said in a written interview with this newspaper.

The office headed by Consuelo Castro instead accuses Oriol Junqueras, leader of the Catalan Republican Party (ERC), and eight other individuals of sedition, which does not involve a violent uprising the way rebellion does.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his deputy Carmen Calvo had suggested that they disagreed with the rebellion charge, as they felt that this meant the use of weapons.

The move is not likely to please anyone in the opposition. Catalan pro-independence parties want all charges to be lifted, while the conservative Popular Party (PP), under whose administration the secession push took place, will contend that dropping the rebellion charge is Sánchez’s way of paying back the Catalan separatist parties that helped him win his no-confidence vote against Mariano Rajoy in late May.

This view is seconded by Ciudadanos, a center-right party whose secretary general José Manuel Villegas on Friday accused Sánchez of favoring the jailed separatists for political reasons. “Mr Sánchez has been acting like the defense attorney for the coup plotters for several days now,” he said in an interview with radio station SER. “He is not making a decision for the general good, but because he needs the coup plotters’ votes in Congress.”

A conviction for rebellion and misuse of public funds would entail prison terms of 15 to 30 years. A sedition-and-misuse conviction ranges between 14 and 27 years, but can be significantly reduced if the money is returned.

Top leaders of the Socialist Party (PSOE) administration met on Monday in La Moncloa, the seat of government, to discuss the situation. While the executive has formally stated that the Solicitor General’s Office has free rein over its final decision, the fact is that this body’s actions depend on political decisions. And on Monday, PM Sánchez and several top aides – including Public Works Minister José Luis Ábalos and congressional spokeswoman Adriana Lastra – decided that the rebellion charge was excessive.

However, the executive has not heeded separatists’ calls for Sánchez to try to sway the public prosecutors, who maintained the rebellion charge against the independence leaders. A total of 18 people are due to face trial in early 2019.

The Catalan politicians who fled Spain shortly after the independence declaration, including former premier Carles Puigdemont, have not been included in the formal presentation of charges. Earlier this year, a German court ruled that Puigdemont, who was briefly arrested and held at a prison in that country to comply with a European arrest warrant, could not be extradited to Spain to be tried for rebellion. The Spanish Supreme Court judge in charge of the case refused to accept his extradition on the lesser crime of misuse of public funds. 

English version by Susana Urra.

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