Police move against Catalan gov’t over referendum

Civil Guard agents searched Catalan gov't offices, arrest officials Wednesday. Photo: Marta Pérez / EFE via La Vanguardia
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• Judges order searches, detentions of officials linked to independence vote
• More than 6mn ballots confiscated, 14 officials arrested in coordinated raids

In a massive, coordinated operation Wednesday, Spanish police acting under judicial orders reportedly arrested 14 12 regional government officials in Catalonia and confiscated from a printing company in Barcelona more than 6 million nearly 10 million ballot papers related to the 1st October independence referendum that has been ruled unconstitutional and illegal by Spanish courts.

The police operation involving more than 40 searches and detentions were carried out by uniformed and plainclothes agents of the Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) and Policia Nacional (National Police). The searches and detentions came less than 24 hours after Civil Guard officers acting on the orders of a local judge on Tuesday afternoon confiscated from the Terrasa headquarters of the Unipost delivery company an estimate 45,000 letters containing credentials for officials of referendum polling places.

On Wednesday, at the same time as the Civil Guard carried out arrest warrants against top Catalan government officials believed to be directly involved in the organization and financing of the independence referendum, other Civil Guard agents searched a warehouse in the town of Bigues i Riells, confiscating an estimated 9 million printed ballots destined for use in the 1st October referendum vote.

The seizure of the polling place credentials Tuesday and the ballots on Wednesday mark the first time that material directly related to the referendum were found and confiscated since Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled the referendum unconstitutional and lower courts in Catalonia began issuing cease-and-desist orders and search-and-seizure warrants to Civil Guard and National Police in an effort to halt the independence vote.

Early on Wednesday, units of the Civil Guard acting on a judge’s orders searched the offices of the Catalan regional government’s Economy, Labour, Interior and Foreign Relations departments for evidence linking government officials to the organizing and financing of the referendum.

At the same time, arrests were made of at least 14 people, most of whom were Catalan government officials, including Josep Maria Jové, the secretary general of the Economy department, considered the right-hand man of Economy minister and Catalan regional Vice-President Oriol Junqueras. Also arrested were Pere Aragonès, secretary of the Economy department, and Lluís Salvadó, the secretary of the Catalan Treasury department.

Believed to be key figures in the financing and operational aspects of the referendum, the three were reportedly arrested on charges of providing false testimony, misuse of public funds, disobedience to the Constitutional Court, violation of Spain’s data-protection laws and sedition, crimes punishable with up to 15 years in prison.

Large crowds gathered outside Catalan government buildings throughout the morning and early afternoon Wednesday, chanting pro-independence and pro-referendum slogans and jeering at police. Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont vowed in a hastily convened press conference to push ahead with the 1st October referendum and called for mobilization of pro-independence supporters to protest the arrests and searches.

► Read More in Spanish at El País, La Vanguardia and El Periódico…

► Read More in English at El País, the BBC and The Guardian…

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