THE head of a public-private partnership that promotes Catalonia abroad has denied it hired international observers for the Catalan independence referendum.

Albert Royo told the trial of 12 pro-Catalan independence leaders that the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat), of which he was general secretary, that the role of international experts during the political crisis was to write a report on the conflict between Catalonia and Spain from 2010.

Prosecutors were trying to prove accusations that Catalan Government figures on trial had misused public funds during the referendum campaign. Royo did not deny that Diplocat had paid their travel and accommodation expenses in Barcelona.

Diplocat was liquidated and Royo was sacked when the Spanish Government took over Catalan institutions following the October 2017 declaration of independence. However, after pro-indy parties regained power, they revived the partnership.

Royo said Diplocat was independent of government and only occasionally worked with its offices abroad.

He added: “We only did our job – explaining the reality of Catalonia abroad. How come what we did in 2017 is seen as a crime due to the political situation, when we were already doing it in 2015 and 2016?”

Meanwhile, there has been further controversy after it emerged that two of the trial judges – Luciano Varela and Ana María Ferrer – are also members of Spain’s Electoral Board, which ordered Catalan President Quim Torra to remove yellow ribbons and Catalan flags from public buildings.

The ribbons are symbols of support for those on trial and Torra has, as yet, refused to remove them.

The Supreme Court said the two judges abstained in yesterday’s vote on the ribbons and would not take part in any other debate over the legal process.