Catalan police chief appears in court to face charges of rebellion

Sam Jones in Madrid
Photograph: Fernando Villar/EPA

A former Catalan police chief has denied being close to the deposed regional president who led the failed bid for independence from Spain two years ago, as he appeared in court accused of rebellion over his alleged role in the push for secession.

Josep Lluís Trapero, who served as the chief of the Mossos d’Esquadra until he was sacked by the central government in October 2017, faces up to 11 years in prison if convicted of colluding with the regional government of Carles Puigdemont.

Trapero is one of four senior Catalan officials whose trial began on Monday at Spain’s highest criminal court, the Audiencia Nacional.

Pere Soler, a former regional police director, and César Puig, a former Catalan interior ministry official, are accused of rebellion, while Teresa Laplana a senior Mossos officer, is charged with sedition.

The proceedings, which are expected to last until mid-March, come three months after the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders prompted furious protests in the region.

Prosecutors allege that the four defendants “were key players in hindering or seriously complicating the fulfilment of court orders with the aim of carrying out the secessionist plan”.

As the trial opened, Trapero was asked about his relationship with Puigdemont, who staged an illegal independence referendum and made a unilateral declaration of independence before fleeing Spain to avoid arrest.

Trapero said he and the former regional premier had not been close and that their personal relationship was “neither good nor bad”.

He also denied the prosecution’s suggestions that his officers had failed to act properly when a huge crowd of pro-independence Catalans gathered outside the region’s economy ministry as it was searched by Guardia Civil officers – a force that operates across Spain – in the run-up to the unilateral referendum.

Trapero said his officers had not acted passively as the crowd moved in and trapped the Guardia Civil officers inside the building.

He also recalled an angry phone call with Jordi Sànchez, who was then the head of the powerful pro-independence civil society group the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), which had called the demonstration.

Trapero said Sànchez had criticised his handling of the situation, “and I told him he wasn’t going to tell me how to deploy my officers”.

He added: “I can’t accept this idea of passivity. You can’t conclude that we didn’t want to do anything. There were many scenarios. Maybe with more officers and planning we could have done things differently but it’s not fair to suggest we only acted as mediators because it’s not true.”