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Spanish prosecutors take legal action against Catalan president

Published on November 21, 2014

Spanish prosecutors launched a legal case on Friday against Catalan president Artur Mas for going ahead with a symbolic independence referendum in defiance of a court injunction.

Mas, along with his deputy Joana Ortega and the Catalan government’s education minister, Irene Rigau, will be prosecuted for civil disobedience, abuse of power, usurpation of duties and embezzlement of public funds, the public prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Prosecutors said on Wednesday that they would take legal action against the three but did not specify for what crimes.

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.

Mas has said it is “very disappointing” that prosecutors will take legal action against him over the referendum which was run by grassroots pro-independence organisations.

“It is sad to see that when the Catalan people want to express their opinion…the reaction of the state comes from the courts and prosecutors,” he said during a news conference on Thursday.

The Catalan government says 2.3 million people took part in the vote on November 9 which Mas held after a legal block from the central government on his plans to hold an official, non-binding referendum on the issue that day.

Roughly 80 percent of those who took part in the vote, or 1.86 million, favoured independence.

A total of 5.4 million voters aged over 16 were authorised to cast ballots.

Mas hailed the ballot as a “total success”, but Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed it as a “deep failure” since “two out of three Catalans paid no attention”.

Demands for independence in Catalonia have grown over recent years, 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.