The Euro Zone

Cooking the books

According to the Spanish Civil Guard, even more public money was unlawfully spent on last October's Catalonian independence referendum (1-O) than was at first estimated. Investigators now put the total amount at €1.9 million - an increase of €300,000 from the figure they released last month. The upward revision is a response to budget minister Cristóbal Montoro's recent assertion that no public money was used to finance the vote; and in making it, the Civil Guard has worsened the obscurity already surrounding this issue.

The new figure of €1.9 million comes with substantial caveats. As the Civil Guard conceded in its most recent report, a lot of the alleged amounts are estimates on their part, as no paper trails have yet been found, or released, that conclusively link Catalan use of state funds to all aspects of 1-O.

There is no such vagueness in some areas, though: investigators claim that €217,656 was used by Catalan separatists to heighten awareness of their plight in the international press. If true, this would certainly count as misuse of public funds; but the Holy Grail of secessionist misdemeanours, as far as the Civil Guard is concerned, is spending Spanish taxpayers' money on the ballot boxes and papers that made 1-O possible. They have yet to prove - or release proof - that that occurred.

Montoro has so far failed to back up his contradiction of the Civil Guard's findings, prompting Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera to request urgent clarity on the matter. Rivera - increasingly the strongest voice in a floundering congress - has also drawn attention to a statement made by Mariano Rajoy earlier this year, to the effect that Catalan secessionists did not use “a single euro” from the Autonomous Liquidity Fund (FLA) to fund 1-O.

Yet of all Spain's autonomous regions, Catalonia has requested the most money from the FLA since it was set up six years ago. The “Fondo de Liquidez Autonómica” was established by the Spanish government in 2012 -at the peak of the country's crisis - ostensibly to help regions finance their debt: between that year and 2016, Catalonia withdrew €45.8 billion from the FLA. Valencia is in second place over the same period, having drawn €28 billion, and Andalucía comes in third with claims amounting to €14.9 billion - three times less than the far wealthier region of Catalonia.

It may be true that none of the hefty sum so far given to Catalonia through the FLA was spent on 1-O, although it needs to be shown. Regardless, the region's heavy use of the fund seriously undermines secessionists' claims that Catalonia is starved of cash by a stingy central government. Rivera is right: the matter of how 1-O was financed and how much it cost must be cleared up as soon as possible. Until it is, half baked figures will continue to be thrown back and forth.