Spain Sees Signs of Catalan Police Sedition as Rebels Dig In

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  • Catalan police chief testified Monday in court in Madrid
  • Rajoy gave Catalans three days to retreat on independence
Spain Gives Catalonia Deadline to Clarify Position

Spain’s National Court ordered the Catalan police chief to surrender his passport after finding evidence that his force spied on its rivals in Madrid.

A judge in the Spanish capital told Josep Lluis Trapero to report back to the court every two weeks, citing evidence that the Catalan police force, known as the Mossos d’Esquadra, may have conducted counter-intelligence operations against officers from Madrid tracking the campaign for Catalan independence. The regional government meets Tuesday in Barcelona to consider its options with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy threatening to seize direct control of Catalonia unless President Carles Puigdemont drops his demands for secession.

The Mossos have become a key element in the battle for control of the region as tensions emerge between rival police forces deployed in the rebel region. Puigdemont used the Mossos to ring the parliament building last week as he set out his claims for independence with Spanish police stationed nearby awaiting a potential order to arrest him.

“We are looking at very serious facts which on the face of it could characterize the crime of sedition,” Investigative Magistrate Carmen Lamela said in her ruling Monday. The investigation is looking at “the broader context of the separatists’ strategic actions,” she added.

Defense Minister

The Spanish government published an updated 2018 budget plan that cut next year’s projected economic growth to 2.3 percent, compared with 2.6 percent previously. The plan, which accounts for the Catalonia uncertainty, was sent to Brussels on Monday.

Spanish stocks fell Monday, with the benchmark Ibex losing 0.8 percent in Madrid. CaixaBank SA, the biggest Catalan bank, fell 1.7 percent while the spread between Spain’s 10-year government bonds and similarly dated German bunds was little changed at 121 basis points.

Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal, who last week hinted that she’s ready to send the army into Catalonia to assert control if that’s what it takes, will also be speaking in Barcelona. She’s visiting a barracks in the regional capital at 3 p.m. The Catalan government’s chief spokesman Jordi Turull is due to speak at a press conference from about 12:30 p.m.

Rajoy’s latest deadline expires 10 a.m. Thursday and the Catalan-government-controlled TV channel reported that Puigdemont may let it pass without making any statement. The regional legislature canceled a plenary session due to begin Wednesday in order to wait for Rajoy’s next move.

Local Hero

Trapero became a local hero in Catalonia after asserting the regional police’s authority during the response to terrorist attacks in August and some pro-independence demonstrators wore T-shirts with his face on. He was dragged into the National Court’s sedition probe as splits opened up between the Spanish police and the Mossos ahead of the illegal referendum on Oct. 1.

Trapero’s 17,000-strong force waited about 15 hours before deploying the officers necessary to protect a Civil Guard patrol searching the regional economy department on Sept. 20, the judge said. During the delay, pro-independence demonstrators vandalized Civil Guard vehicles and kept officers trapped inside the regional government building. The Mossos also failed to execute a court order to shut down polling stations ahead of the makeshift ballot, the government has said. Trapero says he is innocent.

While Trapero reports to the regional government, his force’s funding is mostly provided by Madrid and it’s required to take orders from judges and prosecutors from across the country. Before Oct. 1, his corps was ordered by a prosecutor to obey a colonel of Spain’s Civil Guard police force, Diego Perez de los Cobos, who was tasked with coordinating the Civil Guard, the National Police and the local Mossos.

Organizing the Vote

Also under interrogation on Monday were Jordi Sanchez, head of the pro-independence campaign group the Catalan National Assembly, and Jordi Cuixart, who leads the Catalan cultural lobby group Omnium. Both main were jailed as a precautionary measure.

“This is very bad news,” Puigdemont said in a tweet. “They are trying to imprison ideas, but they make the need for freedom even greater.”

The work of Sanchez’s Catalan National Assembly was crucial in enabling the vote as the movement managed to set up more than 2,000 polling stations across the region, assigning teams to sleep overnight alongside the ballot boxes to obstruct any police crackdown. Sanchez also led the protests outside the regional economy department and now faces charges that could fetch him a jail sentence of up to 15 years.

— With assistance by Charles Penty, and Thomas Gualtieri

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