A SENIOR Spanish politician was forced to back-pedal yesterday after he said in a leaked social media message that the People’s Party (PP) would “control from behind the scenes” the trials against Catalan leaders who organised the October 2017 independence referendum.

In a WhatsApp message published online by El Español, Ignacio Cosidó, the PP’s spokesperson in the Spanish Senate, told colleagues the party had secured influence over the second chamber of Spain’s Supreme Court – the criminal chamber which will hear the indyref cases, known in Catalonia as 1-O.

This had followed an earlier agreement with President Pedro Sánchez’s ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) and after the two main parties in Congress reached a compromise deal over leading judges in the justiciary, including the General Council (CGPJ) and the Supreme Court. In the leaked message, Cosidó said they would control “from behind” the court that will judge 1-O.

He justified the deal with the PSOE to set up the CGPJ so the PP would have nine members, along with the presidency, and the others 11.

Cosidó said: “That is, we get the same numerically but we put an exceptional president, a great jurist with a leadership and authority capability so that the votes are not 11-10, but closer to 21-0.

“And also controlling the second room from behind and presiding over the 61 [room].”

Room 61 is a division of the Spanish Supreme Court court that has the power to outlaw political parties.

Cosidó’s message followed the appointment earlier this month of Judge Manuel Marchena as president of the CGPJ, which means he can no longer judge the 1-O cases.

That task will now be in the hands of Andrés Martínez Arrieta, who is generally seen as a more progressive judge.

The leaked chats attracted strong criticism. Catalan President, Quim Torra, said the “scandal” indicated that the rule of law and freedoms were not guaranteed for anyone.

“There is no judicial independence, no impartiality, no integrity,” he said on Twitter.

His vice-president, Pere Aragonès, said: “Ignacio Cosidó’s message puts into words what we already knew: that Spain’s separation of powers is a mirage.”

And exiled former president Carles Puigdemont added: “The typical things that define an exemplary democracy.”

Late yesterday, Cosidó claimed that his message had been misinterpreted.

He admitted to journalists that the words he used were “unfortunate”, but said he was not referring to his party when he spoke about “controlling” the judiciary, because “that’s not possible”.