PROSECUTORS in Spain are seeking a three-year prison sentence for one of former president Carles Puigdemont’s chief advisers.

Josep Lluis Alay could also face a 17-year disqualification from public office is he is found guilty of allegations that he misused public funds and embezzlement, over a trip in November 2018 to a referendum in New Caledonia – a French territory in the South Pacific – on independence.

Barcelona High Court and the prosecutors said Alay was invited to the archipelago in a “personal capacity” and it was not appropriate for the Catalan government to pay for it.

A trial date has yet to be set, but the court has asked Alay to pay €4732 (£4000) for his plane tickets and expenses, which will be returned if he is acquitted.

Prosecutors say he abused his position, “exceeded the functions and activities he had been assigned”, and “deviated from his obligation to serve the general interests of the public administration”.

The trip came about after the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front – a pro-independence alliance of New Caledonia political parties – emailed Alay, the prosecution said, to promote the indyref “in a personal capacity and representing the Catalan independence movement”.

He paid for his flights with an official bank card, an authorised expense, and afterwards presented receipts to claim €337 (£288) for other expenses.

Alay’s lawyers argued that he was not in control of the finances – which rested with third parties not involved in the case – and said their client acted “in accordance with the role that he held and in a manner that was faithful to what had been entrusted to him”.

The case came after Alay and Puigdemont were forced to defend trips the adviser made to Moscow after the New York Times published a story investigating Catalonia-Russia links.

Alay claimed the contact with Russia was to prepare conferences and interviews with Puigdemont following the 2017 Catalan indyref, with the aim of explaining the pro-indy case.

He said in a TV interview: “Going to Russia to talk about how to form our own independent state I don't think is a crime.

“It's the most normal thing in the world for anyone who wants an independent Catalonia.”

Alay also accused Spain – “either the Guardia Civil police or the judge" – of fraudulently leaking messages to the American newspaper.

He said: “Madrid is constantly trying to exploit the relationship between Russia and Catalonia to cast doubt in Brussels on the Catalan independence movement, to sell the idea that the pro-independence movement wants to destabilise Europe.”

Puigdemont, now an MEP, said in a statement at the time that Alay's Moscow meetings were “perfectly legal and aim to contribute to the democratic resolution of the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain”.