Tag Archives: Barcelona

Lionel Messi signs new Barcelona deal to run until 2021

 Barça include £626m buy-out clause in Argentinian’s new contract
 Deal would appear to scupper Manchester City hopes of landing Messi

Lionel Messi has signed a new deal with Barcelona through to the summer of 2021.

A renewal was agreed between player and club in July but it is only now that Messi has put pen to paper on the contract.

Continue reading Lionel Messi signs new Barcelona deal to run until 2021


‘Open the goddamn door!’: Desperate final pleas of Germanwings captain emerge as black box transcript reveals

Captain Patrick Sondheimer is heard with co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, pictured, who tells him he can go to the toilet at any time and he will take over the controls, noting that the pilot didn’t go to the lavatory in Barcelona

  • Lubitz tells captain Patrick Sondheimer he can go to the toilet at any time
  • Tells the captain he will take over controls and later says ‘you can go now’
  • Shortly afterwards there is loud bang, like someone trying to enter cockpit
  • Sondheimer yells: ‘For God’s sake, open the door!’ and passengers scream

Dramatic recordings from the Germanwings flight’s black box have revealed the captain’s desperate attempts to break into the cockpit to regain control of the plane.

According to transcripts published today, captain Patrick Sondheimer screamed ‘Open the goddamn door!’ as his killer co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew the aircraft into an Alpine ravine after he had left to go to the toilet.

Yesterday, it was revealed that Lubitz was living ‘on the edge’ because he feared that his deteriorating blurred vision would cost him his pilot’s licence.

Lubitz is believed to have locked his captain out after the senior officer left the flight deck, and used the flight managing system to put the plane into a descent, something that can only be done manually – and deliberately.

A transcript published in today’s edition of the German newspaper Bild, reveals that the chilling recording starts with captain Sondheimer apologising to passengers for a 26-minute delay in Barcelona, and promising to make up the time on the flight to Dusseldorf.

In the next 20 minutes, Sondheimer converses with co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who tells him he can go to the toilet at any time and he will take over the controls, noting that the pilot didn’t go to the lavatory in Barcelona.

At 10.27am, the airliner reaches its cruising altitude of 38,000ft. The pilot prompts his first officer to prepare for the landing in Dusseldorf.

Lubitz was sitting in this cockpit, pictured, when he commanded the jet to crash into the Alps at 400mph

The French prosecutors described Lubitz’s replies as ‘laconic’, and he is heard using words such as ‘hopefully’ and ‘we’ll see’.

After the checks for landing, Lubitz says to Sondheimer again: ‘You can go now.’

The pilot lets another two minutes elapse, then he says to Lubitz: ‘You can take over.’

There is the sound of a seat being pushed back and the snap of a door.

At 10.29am the flight radar monitors the plane descending.

At 10.30am it is down by 316ft, and just a minute later, it is down 1,800ft. At 10.32am air traffic controllers try to contact the aircraft, but get no response.

In the plane, the automatic alarm signal ‘Sink Rate’ sounds almost at the same time, according to the voice recorder.

Shortly afterwards there is a loud bang, which sounds like someone trying to enter the cockpit. Sondheimer yells: ‘For God’s sake, open the door!’

Dramatic recordings from the Germanwings flight’s black box have revealed the captain’s desperate attempts to break into the cockpit to regain control of the plane
Dramatic recordings from the Germanwings flight’s black box have revealed the captain’s desperate attempts to break into the cockpit to regain control of the plane

In the background, passengers can be heard screaming.

At 10.35am ‘loud, metallic banging against the cockpit door’ is heard again, according to the French authorities. The jet is still 7,000ft above the ground.

About 90 seconds later there is a new warning message – ‘Ground! Pull up! Pull up!’

The pilot is heard shouting: ‘Open the goddamn door!’

At 10.38am, with its engines racing, the aircraft is on a north-east course over the French Alps. The breathing of Lubitz can be heard in the cockpit but he says nothing.

Access to the cockpit door on the Germanwings Airbus A320 (like the one above) can be disabled from inside the flight deck to prevent hijacking
Access to the cockpit door on the Germanwings Airbus A320 (like the one above) can be disabled from inside the flight deck to prevent hijacking 

Access to the cockpit door on the Germanwings Airbus A320 (like the one above) can be disabled from inside the flight deck to prevent hijacking

At 10.40am the aircraft hits the mountainside with its right wing. The last sounds are more screams from passengers.

It is believed that Sondheimer resorted to using a crowbar to try and get through the armoured panel as the plane plunged fatally towards the Alps.

German newspaper Bild yesterday reported that he had attempted to use an axe, and a Germanwings spokesman confirmed that such a tool was on board the aircraft.

Family members of a victim pause in front of a stele, a stone slab erected as a monument, set up in the area where the Germanwings aircraft crashed in the French Alps, in Le Vernet, France
Family members of a victim pause in front of a stele, a stone slab erected as a monument, set up in the area where the Germanwings aircraft crashed in the French Alps, in Le Vernet, France

But the only axe on the plane would have been in the cockpit, meaning it was out of reach of the captain.

It has emerged that Lubitz once planned to marry his long-term girlfriend but she broke off the relationship because his Jekyll and Hyde personality left her fearing for her safety, it was claimed.

The woman, named as teacher Kathrin Goldbach, is understood to have called time on Lubitz’s increasingly erratic and controlling behaviour just weeks before the Germanwings crash.

Reports emerged that police searching the pilot’s flat had found a ‘small mountain of pills’ and he had apparently been refusing to take his antidepressants medication.

The crash on Tuesday killed all 150 people aboard. Reports have emerged that police searching the pilot's flat had found a 'small mountain of pills' and he had apparently been refusing to take his antidepressant medication
The crash on Tuesday killed all 150 people aboard. Reports have emerged that police searching the pilot’s flat had found a ‘small mountain of pills’ and he had apparently been refusing to take his antidepressant medication

Miss Goldbach still lived with Lubitz, 27, but it is understood she was on the lookout for a flat after being driven away by his need to be in charge. He even tried to tell her what to wear, friends said.

While outwardly confident, his hidden insecurity demanded constant attention – which led him to betray Kathrin with a five-month fling with a Germanwings stewardess conducted in cheap hotels.

But she, too, is believed to have ended her relationship after growing fearful of the ‘tormented and erratic’ Lubitz.

At an extraordinary press conference, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin gave a disturbing account of the cockpit voice recordings extracted from black box. He said Lubitz locked his captain out after the senior officer left the flight deck.

Two teddy bears dressed in the uniforms of a Germanwings pilot and a flight attendant sit in the centre of a wreath outside the Germanwings headquarters at Cologne-Bonn airport 
Two teddy bears dressed in the uniforms of a Germanwings pilot and a flight attendant sit in the centre of a wreath outside the Germanwings headquarters at Cologne-Bonn airport

He said: ‘The intention was to destroy the plane. Death was instant. The plane hit the mountain at 700kmh (430mph).

‘I don’t think that the passengers realised what was happening until the last moments because on the recording you only hear the screams in the final seconds’.

Referring to Lubitz, Mr Robin said: ‘He did this for a reason which we don’t know why, but we can only deduct that he destroyed this plane. We have asked for information from the German investigation on both his profession and personal background’.

Mr Robin said he had no known links with terrorism, adding: ‘There is no reason to suspect a terrorist attack.’

And asked whether he believed the crash that killed 150 people was the result of suicide, he said: ‘People who commit suicide usually do so alone… I don’t call it a suicide.’

Mr Robin, who had earlier briefed the families of the dead – and separately those of both pilots – said the screams of passengers aware of their fate could be heard in the final seconds of the recording.

It also emerged that his parents only discovered that their son was a mass murderer just minutes before the bombshell press conference by prosecutors in Marseille.

His mother, a piano teacher, and father, a successful businessman, were understood to be in the French city at the time of the announcement, but kept separate from the victims’ relatives.

Their whereabouts are now unknown, but it is believed they are being questioned by police.

The couple’s £400,00 two-storey detached home in Montabaur, a town 40 miles from Bonn where Lubitz is thought to have grown up, was also searched by detectives.

As a child, Lubitz is said to have always wanted to be a pilot and covered his bedroom walls with pictures of planes and collected model aircraft.

French prosecutor: Co-pilot of Germanwings flight appears to have crashed plane deliberately


  • Investigators now believe that the German co-pilot of Flight 4U9525 deliberately sought to “destroy the plane.”
  • The lead French prosecutor says the co-pilot likely locked the captain out of the cockpit, then started the plane’s descent.
  • The co-pilot “voluntarily” refused to open the door, according to the French prosecutor, and his breathing was normal throughout the final minutes of the flight.
  • Officials named the co-pilot as 28-year-old Andreas Lubitz, a German. He was deemed competent and “100% fit.”

French officials believe that the co-pilot who was locked in the cockpit of the Germanwings plane that crashed this week “intentionally” began the rapid descent that sent the aircraft plummeting into the French alps.

On Tuesday, an Airbus A320 flying from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany crashed into the French alps, killing all 150 people on board.

“This was not an accident,” Marseille public prosecutor Brice Robin French official said at a press conference on Thursday, adding that it was the co-pilot’s “intention to destroy this plane,” Robin said.

The co-pilot could reportedly be heard breathing from when the captain left the cockpit until the plane crashed, but he did not say a word.

“It was absolute silence in the cockpit,” Robin said.

Lufthansa said in a statement on its Twitter feed: “We have just learned of the shocking comments of the French prosecutor in which is said that the co-pilot apparently deliberately crashed the plan. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims.”


A senior French military official with knowledge of a cockpit voice recording from the plane told The New York Times on Wednesday that one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit and could not get back in before the plane crashed, killing all 150 people on board.

“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door and there is no answer,” the investigator told the Times. “And then he hits the door stronger and no answer. There is never an answer. … You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”

france crash

Officials named the co-pilot as 28-year-old Andreas Lubitz, a German. French officials did not specify his religious or ethnic background and emphasized that investigators do not think the crash was an act of terrorism, but rather a suicide.

Lubitz reportedly input the command to start the plane’s descent after the captain left the cockpit.

When the captain started his mid-flight briefing on the landing of the plane, Lubitz’s reponses reportedly became “curt,” the Associated Press reports.

“It’s obvious this co-pilot took advantage of the commander’s absence,” Robin said. “Could he have known he would leave? It is too early to say.”

Lufthansa stated that the co-pilot joined Germanwings in September 2013, directly after training, and had flown 630 hours. CEO Carsten Spohr said that Lubitz was competent and ‘100% fit’ in all areas.

Germany’s top security official said that there are “no indications of any kind of terrorist background” to the crash, and Germany’s interior minister said that a background check of Lubitz didn’t reveal anything untoward.

The cries of passengers could be heard on the plane’s black box voice recorder, according to officials. Alarms were going off before the plane crashed, but the co-pilot reportedly refused to open the cockpit door.

“Passengers didn’t know what was happening until the last minute,” the French prosecutor said at the press conference.

The passengers reportedly died instantly. The plane crashed into the mountains at about 435 miles per hour.

unnamed 4

Segolene Royal, a top government minister whose portfolio includes transport, said on Tuesday that what happened between 10:30 a.m. and 10:31 a.m. is key because air traffic controllers were unable to make contact with the plane during that two minutes.

“To me, it seems very weird: this very long descent at normal speed without any communications, though the weather was absolutely clear,” the official told the Times.

During the rescue effort, investigators found one of two black boxes.

recorder germanwings

The black box voice recorder records audio from four microphones in the cockpit as well as recording all the conversations between the pilots and air traffic controllers.

The French military official noted the conversations between pilots were “very smooth, very cool” during the early portion of the Barcelona-to-Düsseldorf flight.

Lufthansa said the captain had more than 6,000 hours of flying time and been Germanwings pilot since May 2014.

“We don’t know yet the reason why one of the guys went out,” the official told the Times. “But what is sure is that at the very end of the flight, the other pilot is alone and does not open the door.”

france cockpit
REUTERS/Leonhard FoegerA picture inside a flight simulator shows the door locking system of an Airbus A320 in Vienna on March 26, 2015.

Germanwings A320 Crash: Plane Carrying 144 Passengers, 6 Crew, Crashes In French Alps

Kép megtekintése a Twitteren

An Airbus A320 carrying 150 people crashed Tuesday in Southern France. Calling it a “tragedy,” French President Francois Hollande said it’s likely that all were killed.

Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 was traveling from Barcelona to Dusseldorf when it sent out a distress signal.

Capture d’écran 2015-03-24 à 13.16.41.png

It crashed near Barcelonnette, a town in the Alpes de Haute-Provence.The plane came down at 11:20 a.m. local time (6:20 a.m. ET), Oliver Wagner, Germanwings’ chairman, said in a statement.

View image on Twitter

The budget airline is owned by Lufthansa. Wagner said there were 144 passengers and six crew members on board.

Hollande said these included people from Spain, Germany and Turkey.

French police captain Benoit Zeisser told CNBC that official helicopters had located the crash site, which is not easily accessible. He said he expected the police and fire brigade to be at the location in a matter of hours.

France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was also headed to the crash site.The weather conditions were not bad at the time of the crash, according to Zeisser.

The arrivals board shows flight 4U 9525 without a status at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The cause of the crash was unknown, and Lufthansa tweeted that it did “not yet know” what had happened to the flight.”If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors,” Chairman and CEO Carsten Spohr said.


‘No known issues’

Aviation expert Michael Boyd, chairman of The Boyd Group consultancy, told CNBC there were no known issues with Germanwings.”Anything involved with Lufthansa is going to be clean as a whistle as far as maintenance and operations goes,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“There hasn’t been anything untoward with the A320 series. … It’s a very reliable airplane.”According to online database airfleets.net, the A320 in question was 24 years old and had been with the Lufthansa group since 1991, Reuters reported.


Luis Enrique wanted to formally punish Lionel Messi for “gastroenteritis” absence

Lucho wanted to punish Messi | Foto: JM Arolas

Luis Enrique seems to have started a war with Lionel Messi, that has caused others in the dressing room to try and intervene.

As explained in SPORT, the coach was furious that Messi missed the open doors training session on Monday, which was attended by thousands of fans, including many children.

Enrique was not convinced that the “gastroenteritis” Messi said he had was real and his anger was monumental. So much so that he took a firm decision – to punish Leo formally.

In the end, there was no punishment. The reason for that is because the captains, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, convinced the coach that punishing Messi would not help and make the environment around the club untenable. 

On Wednesday morning those three club captains will speak with Messi and try to calm the storm that surrounds Barcelona.

Spain’s hidden country

People hold placards to form a giant "Estelada" flag (Catalan Separatist flag) in front of Sant Feliu townhall, near Barcelona February 16, 2014. REUTERS/Albert Gea (SPAIN - Tags: POLITICS) - RTX18XOG
Identity parade: people hold placards to form a giant Catalan flag in the town of Sant Feliu, near Barcelona, in February

Spain faces a bitter political crisis amid mounting calls for independence from the region

Lluís Ballús knows perfectly well that Berga, a small town in the foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees, is still part of Spain. It just doesn’t feel that way – not to him, and not to the vast majority of the 17,000 people who live there.

Madrid, says Mr Ballús, is as strange and distant to him as Paris or London. When he leaves Catalonia to visit other parts of the country, it seems like crossing a national frontier. “We tell each other: ‘I have to go to Spain tomorrow’,” he says.

In Berga itself, symbols of Spanish sovereignty are hard to find. Even the town hall does not fly a Spanish flag. Instead, councillors voted to display the Estelada, the banner of the Catalan independence movement, which now hangs from a third-floor window.

The same flag flutters from almost every building in town, except the local church and police station.

A surgeon in the local hospital, Mr Ballús is proud of his town’s reputation as a bastion of the Catalan independence movement.

Over the past five years he has worked tirelessly for the cause, devoting at least three hours a day to the Catalan National Assembly, the influential grassroots organisation that has led the campaign for independence.

“I have nothing against Spaniards,” he says. “But I want them as neighbours, not as landlords.”

Like many of his friends, Mr Ballús believes Catalonia is finally moving closer to a historic break with Spain. Inspired by Scotland’s landmark plebiscite next week, the Catalan government has called for its own independence referendum, albeit non-binding, on November 9.

Madrid insists the planned vote is illegal, and says it will do all it can to stop it. But Catalan activists such as Mr Ballús vow to press ahead even if that means defying Spain’s government, parliament and constitutional court.

With political tensions rising by the day, the period between now and November 9 promises to be tumultuous. Most analysts believe the vote will ultimately have to be called off, though few dare to predict what other outlet Catalans will find for their discontent.

One way or the other, Spain appears to be heading towards a searing political crisis just as the country’s long-suffering economy is starting to pick up. Some analysts worry that financial markets may come to view the simmering tensions as a cause for concern.

“Why is everyone still so calm about this? I think it is because markets are not good at assessing political risk. They usually dismiss it until they see it – and then they react suddenly and extremely,” says Luis Garicano, a professor of economy at the London School of Economics.

The Catalan challenge has long ceased to be a national matter. Alarmed by the prospect of political instability in Spain, European leaders such as Angela Merkel have waded into the debate in recent months, siding openly with Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, and against Catalan independence.

Catalonia map

It is not hard to see why the prospect of Catalan secession, distant as it may appear, is so alarming to Spain. Catalonia accounts for 16 per cent of Spain’s population and almost a fifth of the economy. Losing the region would deprive the country of an economic powerhouse and a vital source of tax revenue:

Catalonia is home to many of Spain’s largest corporations and best research institutions. Its capital, Barcelona, ranks as one of the world’s great cities, drawing in almost twice as many tourists as Madrid. No fewer than five of the 11 players that won Spain the World Cup in 2010 are Catalan.

Scotland’s contribution to the UK, in terms of people and economic output, is far smaller. But there is another crucial difference: even if Scotland says Yes to independence, there is little danger that Wales or Northern Ireland will follow down the secessionist road. In the case of Spain, there is no such guarantee.

The Catalan referendum campaign has triggered calls for a similar plebiscite in the Basque country, traditionally the main focus of secessionist tensions in Spain.

Furthermore, hardcore Catalan separatists have made clear their ambition to recreate eventually the greater Catalonia of medieval times, by drawing the Balearic Islands and the Valencia region away from Spain.

Fanciful as such scenarios seem for the moment, fears of a domino effect are taken seriously in both Madrid and Barcelona. “Britain goes on being Britain even without Scotland.

Spain without Catalonia is a totally different case,” says Lluís Bassets, a Barcelona-based writer and columnist for the El País daily newspaper.

This helps explain the vehemence of Madrid’s refusal to even entertain the idea of a referendum. For a country that has spent centuries shedding vast chunks of its territory, losing Catalonia is simply unthinkable.

The deepest, darkest fear of policy makers in Madrid is encapsulated in a blunt warning by Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, Spain’s justice minister. Catalan independence, he has said, would simply “put an end to Spain”.

. . .

Catalonia chart

In Madrid the surge in separatist sentiment is usually blamed on the recent economic crisis. Advisers to Mr Rajoy see the clamour for independence as a byproduct of economic frustration and predict it will weaken once Spain’s nascent recovery gains strength.

Another culprit is found in Catalonia’s education system and parts of the regional media, which critics say have bred resentment of Spain, along with a nativist sense of victimhood.

“All this has created a mentality where the next logical step is independence”, says Francesc de Carreras, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Barcelona, and a prominent opponent of secession.

In Catalonia, activists counter that the region has always seen itself as a nation apart, with its own language, history and culture. They describe a long process of frustration with Spain, culminating in a landmark 2010 ruling by the country’s constitutional court to strike down a new statute setting out the relationship between Catalonia and Spain.

The statute, which would have further bolstered Catalan autonomy, had been approved by the Spanish and Catalan parliaments, and was backed by a popular referendum in the region.

For many Catalans the statute offered the last chance to find a political accommodation within the Spanish realm. When it was struck down – by a court dominated by conservative appointees – they saw independence as the only path left.

“Part of Catalan society trusted the Spanish state, and thought we would be treated correctly. But that confidence has now disappeared. Catalans feel their good faith and their hopes were betrayed by Madrid,” says Oriol Junqueras, the leader of the pro-independence Esquerra Republicana Catalan party (ERC).

Amid this swirl of competing narratives, grievances, fears and aspirations, no one is feeling the political heat more than Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia. A relatively recent convert to the cause of independence, he says he is committed to holding a referendum in November. But he has also made clear that he will only go through with the vote if it is legal.

That is a potentially critical caveat, because the constitutional court is widely expected to rule in the coming months that an independence referendum, even if it is non-binding, cannot proceed.

Mr Junqueras insists the vote must be held, and points out that his party’s political alliance with Mr Mas and the ruling Convergència i Unió party hinges on the promise of a referendum. “There is one fundamental demand in Catalonia, and that is to vote,” Mr Junqueras says.

Officials close to Mr Mas say he may not be able to satisfy that demand. To defy the ruling of Spain’s highest court would almost certainly provoke harsh countermeasures from Madrid, and possibly split his party. An illegal referendum would also likely be boycotted by large parts of the Catalan population, ensuring a low turnout.


. . .

Most analysts believe Mr Mas will instead opt for early regional elections, with a view to turning the vote into a quasi-referendum on independence. The regional leader himself insists that, one way or the other, Catalans will have to vote on their future. “In a democracy, you cannot stop the democratic reaction of a country or society,” says Mr Mas.

A new, strongly pro-independence Catalan parliament could then be moved to issue a unilateral declaration of independence. But an early election could also mark the end of Mr Mas’s career in politics: polls predict that the ERC would emerge as the strongest party, with Mr Junqueras as Catalan leader.

Catalan towns such as Berga have already mentally seceded from the rest of the country, and no amount of legal pressure or economic incentives will entice them back

In Madrid, these dilemmas are viewed with quiet satisfaction. Officials there have long believed that the Catalan independence movement would ultimately radicalise and split. With the Spanish government refusing to budge one millimetre, moderate nationalists may eventually decide they have no appetite for unilateral moves, let alone acts of civil disobedience against the Spanish state.

A critical test of the movement’s endurance will come on Thursday, Catalonia’s national day, when the pro-independence movement will once again rally hundreds of thousands of supporters on Barcelona’s streets. Organisers say enthusiasm is as high as ever yet any sign that the turnout is markedly lower than in previous years will be seized upon by Madrid as evidence that its hard line is starting to pay dividends.

Even if a head-on clash can be averted in the months ahead, Catalonia will continue to cry out for a new political settlement. Analysts agree that the recent economic crisis has played a role in bolstering the case of the separatists – if only by highlighting the perceived unfairness of the Catalan tax transfers to the rest of the country.


But in a conflict marked by identity and deep emotions, more growth and jobs are no panacea. Catalan towns such as Berga have already mentally seceded from the rest of the country, and no amount of legal pressure or economic incentives will entice them back.

Prof Garicano warns that the biggest danger for Spain and Catalonia lies in the fact that both sides are living in different realities. “In Catalonia, people believe they will vote and that independence is possible,” he says. “In Madrid, there is a consensus that this is absurd.”

That divergence provides fertile ground for escalation and miscalculation: “Conflict takes place when two parties have a different view of reality – and when both sides think they can win.”

For the moment, despite the solemn promises and high expectations, it is difficult to chart a clear course that would lead towards a Catalan referendum, let alone to the formation of a breakaway state.

Yet hoping that separatist pressures will simply subside, as many in Spain’s government seem to do, appears just as fanciful.

“We will try and try and try, just as we have always tried,” says Mr Junqueras. “We will not get tired.”


Tax scandal casts shadow

The announcement was short but the shadow it cast on the Catalan independence campaign is long and getting longer.

On July 27, Jordi Pujol issued a statement revealing that he had kept undeclared money outside the country for the past 34 years.

Jordi Pujol

The confession sparked a political uproar and turned one of the heroes of the Catalan national movement into a villain, roundly condemned even by former allies.

Mr Pujol served as Catalan president for 23 years, and, despite his small stature, towered over the region’s political scene in the tumultuous decades since Spain’s return to democracy in the late 1970s. To see him admit to tax fraud was “like discovering that Gandhi was a meat-eater”, remarks Lluís Bassets, a journalist in Barcelona.

On one level, analysts say, the scandal is unlikely to affect the Catalan push for independence. Many of the most committed supporters of independence were never part of Mr Pujol’s Convergéncia i Unió (CiU) movement – and indeed saw the former president as suspiciously close to Madrid. To them, his fall from grace is of little relevance.

But the scandal is likely to hurt the independence cause all the same. It has already weakened Artur Mas, the Catalan president and Mr Pujol’s heir as leader of the CiU, at a crucial moment in the campaign.

Catalonia National Day in Barcelona

It has given Madrid a stick with which to beat the Catalan leadership, and has provided a serious distraction at a time when the pro-independence camp is keen to project unity and optimism. With Mr Pujol due to explain himself in the Catalan parliament on September 22, the affair is unlikely to blow over soon.

Finally, it may weaken – at least in the minds of some Catalans – one core argument in favour of independence; namely that a new Catalan state offers the chance to make a decisive break with Spain’s corruption-prone and deeply discredited political elite.

Francesc Homs, one of Mr Mas’s most senior advisers, admits the Pujol affair has damaged Catalonia’s ruling party but insists that the campaign for independence will go on regardless: “This doesn’t affect the process just as [a Spanish corruption scandal] doesn’t affect the continuity of Spain. Catalonia transcends the Pujol family, and it transcends every individual.”

Spain blocks Catalonia referendum on independence

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed to defend the 'sovereignty' of his country

Constitutional Court suspends Catalonia’s Scottish-style referendum planned for November 7 following appeal by Spanish prime minister

Spain’s Constitutional Court on Monday blocked a Scottish-style referendum called by Catalonia, after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed to defend the “sovereignty” of his country.

The court said it would suspend the region’s planned independence vote while it considered a request from Mr Rajoy’s conservative government that the vote be declared unconstitutional.

That process is likely to take up to five months, meaning the referendum, due to take place on November 7, seems certain to be declared illegal if it goes ahead.

Rather than follow the lead of David Cameron and allow a vote on independence, Mariano Rajoy said on Monday that legal action would be taken by his government to block the regional plebiscite.

“It’s false that the right to vote can be assigned unilaterally to one region about a matter that affects all Spaniards,” Mr Rajoy said in a statement following an emergency cabinet meeting on Monday morning. “It’s profoundly anti-democratic.”

The decision puts Madrid on a collision course with Catalonia following the signing on Saturday by Artur Mas, the president of the Catalan government, of a decree to allow the “consultation” on breaking away from Spain.

Mr Mas had said the vote was legal because the result was non-binding.

“Catalonia wants to express itself, it wants to be heard and it wants to vote,” he said after approving the law passed by Catalan’s parliament in Barcelona on Saturday.

But Mr Rajoy insisted the vote would not take place.

President of Catalonia’s regional government Artur Mas (AFP/Getty)

“There is nothing and no one, no power nor institution, that can break this principle of sole sovereignty,” he told reporters at the palace in Moncloa.

Catalonia’s nationalists have urged the Spanish government to take inspiration from David Cameron’s decision to recognise the Scottish referendum.

With the Catalan referendum now suspended by the Constitutional Court, an action that gives no recourse to appeal, Mr Mas will come under pressure from nationalists to defy Madrid and go ahead with the vote anyway.

Or he may decide to call early elections in the region and make them a plebiscite on independence.

Recent polls show an overwhelming majority in the northeastern region of 7.5 million want the right to vote on sovereignty but that support for an independent state wavers around 50 per cent.