16 June 2021 |The Spanish government is pursuing eminent economist Andreu Mas-Colell with unspecified accusations of misappropriation of public funds with regards to the Catalan referentum of 2017, even though he had been retired for years at that time, writes Princeton professor Alexandre Mas, his son, in this guest comment.
Alex Mas.* I have a pressing concern. My dad, Spanish economist Andreu Mas-Colell, is dealing with an incredibly difficult and unjust situation. In two weeks my parents home, his pension and his bank account may be seized by state authorities, without due process. This has to do with events in Catalonia over the last few years, even though he had long retired at that point.
“Andreu Mas-Colell is a Spanish economist, and one of the world’s leading mathematical economists. He is the founder of the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics. He has also served several times in the cabinet of the Catalan government. His textbook on microeconomics, co-authored with Michael Whinston and Jerry Green, is the most used graduate microeconomics textbook in the world.”
Let me give some background. Following the global financial crisis my dad was called on to head the department in charge of finance and the budget in the government of Catalonia to help in the recovery from one of the worst recessions in history.
He left his comfortable position as Secretary General of the European Research Council to take on this challenge. He has been committed to public service from well before leaving Harvard in 1995 to help establish a new university in Barcelona.
After my dad retired from public service in 2015, a new government formed. Catalonia then underwent a period of turmoil precipitated by a referendum for independence in October 2017. These events led to waves of arrests, charges, imprisonment, and heavy penalties against political and civil society leaders whom the judiciary deems connected to the referendum. (You can read about two cases here.)
My dad did not have anything to do with the organization of the referendum, or the events that transpired. He has been living a retired life for years. And now, a full six year after retirement, he has been targeted for severe financial punishment.
Last month, a politicized, non-judicial “tribunal” of controllers (“Tribunal de Cuentas”) made 39 former government officials personally responsible for the bulk of the expenses (back to 2011) of an entire section of the Catalan government: that concerned with foreign relations. The claim is that the Catalan government used public funds to promote Catalan independence, and specifically the 2017 referendum, abroad.
What’s my dad’s connection? The 18,000+ page document of accusations he was sent, and given ten days to respond to in writing (his only chance to defend himself in all this), does not specify.
Though not stated, he seems to be targeted because he was, in the last resort, responsible for implementing the budgets voted on by parliament. It appears that for that he is now being held personally liable for a total amount that may add up to tens of millions of dollars.
In what I understand is highly unusual, a member of the tribunal issued a written dissent against the decision. She says that the tribunal was not impartial, the decision was based on unproven allegations and contains exaggerations. (See linked article in Spanish.)
There will be no trial. There is simply a penalty that is handed down. The appeals will take years and can reach the EU Courts of Human Rights, but the neat trick is that in the meantime the accused will have to put up a guarantee for the full amount requested.
Because the penalty could far exceed the combined net worth of all targeted individuals, they could have all of their personal property, assets and income seized. It will be complete and arbitrary expropriation. Without due process. This administrative body has taken this action in past cases.
The way to make sense of this is in the frame of right-wing sectors of public administration using political persecution and disenfranchisement to sabotage a courageous move by PM Pedro Sanchez towards dialogue and deescalation in the Catalan conflict.
It saddens me that someone who devoted much effort to helping build Spanish higher education and research, including Spanish economics (he was the first president of the Spanish Economic Association) is being treated in this way.
My parents are going through this with far better spirits than I would be capable of in this Kafkaesque situation. They are enjoying their time with their kids and friends, and look forward to being reunited with grandkids.
The penalties will be levied on June 29, coincidentally the day of his 77th birthday. Before then the best thing we can do is raise awareness. If you are able, I would be grateful if you can share what is going on with others, on social media or simply in real life. Thank you.
*Alexandre Mas is William S. Tod Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University, Director of the Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University, and Director of the Labor Studies program of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is a former Chief Economist of the United States Department of Labor and Associate Director for Economic Policy at the Office of Management and Budget.
Update (5 July): As the Wall Street Journal reports, Andreu Mas-Coleil has indeed been fined 2.8 million euro and has to first pay the fine before being allowed to contest it in court.