Spanish prosecutors to take legal action against Catalan president
Spanish prosecutors said Wednesday they will take legal action against Catalan president Artur Mas after he went ahead with a symbolic independence referendum in defiance of a court injunction, AFP reports.
"The public prosecutor's office will take the appropriate legal actions in the High Court of Justice of Catalonia," the public prosecutor's office said in a statement.
The Catalan government says 2.3 million people took part in the vote on November 9 which Mas held following a legal block by the central government against his plans to hold an official, non-binding referendum on the issue that day.
The ballot was organised by over 41,000 volunteers with voting stations set up in town halls and schools across the wealthy northeastern region.
It has triggered the biggest clash between Catalonia and the central government since Spain returned to democracy following the death of longtime dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.
Prosecutors have not yet decided which crimes Mas will be accused of but Spain's Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce has said he could be charged with: civil disobedience, abuse of power, usurpation of duties and embezzlement of public funds.
If Mas is found guilty of civil disobedience or abuse of power it could eventually mean that he would be banned from standing for public office for several years.
A sentence for embezzlement of public funds could lead to a jail term of between three and six years.
The public prosecutor's office also wants to sue Mas's deputy Joana Ortega and the regional Catalan government's education minister, Irene Rigau, who is responsible for the schools used during the ballot.
The attorney general on Monday asked public prosecutors in Catalonia to launch a lawsuit against Mas but they refused, arguing they lacked arguments to pursue a case against the Catalan president.
The deputy secretary of Spain's ruling conservative Popular Party, Carlos Floriano, accused Catalan prosecutors of being "contaminated by the nationalists' atmosphere".
The attorney general then met with a special commission of 27 public prosecutors from across the country on Tuesday as required by law and they overwhelmingly recommended that the lawsuit against Mas and the other Catalan government officials be launched.
PM calls vote 'failure'
Of the 5.4 million voters aged over 16 who were authorised to vote, 1.86 million favoured independence, or 80.7 percent of those who took part, it said.
Mas has hailed the ballot as a "total success" but Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has dismissed it as a "deep failure" since "two out of three Catalans paid no attention".
Catalonia's nationalist government has said it will push for an official referendum similar to the one held in Scotland in September and in Canada's French-speaking province of Quebec in 1980 and 1995. The "No" sides won in Scotland and Quebec.
Rajoy has said that holding an official referendum would be "impossible" because under Spain's constitution only the central government can call such votes.
Mas has said that if he fails to reach an agreement with Rajoy over a referendum, he could call early regional parliamentary elections that might serve as a plebiscite on independence.
Demands for independence in Catalonia have grown over recent years despite Madrid's resistance, fanned by the economic crisis.
Catalans complain that their region does not receive investments in proportion to the taxes it pays and that the central government meddles in its linguistic and education policy.
Polls in recent years say the majority of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants want an official vote on independence, while around half support cutting centuries-old ties with Spain.
Pro-independence fervour fades when people are asked if they favour an independent Catalonia outside the European Union. Both the EU and NATO have said an independent Catalonia would have to re-negotiate membership.
The symbolic referendum has stirred debate about whether Spain's 1978 Spanish constitution should be updated to accommodate Catalonia's demands for more power while maintaining the 17-region country unified.