Catalan crisis: Carles Puigdemont mulls options as ministers are jailed

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The Spanish judge tasked with processing charges against Catalonia’s secessionist leaders will not issue a European arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont until Friday at the earliest, according to court sources.

Prosecutors had asked Investigative Magistrate Carmen Lamela to order the immediate detention of ousted Catalan leader and four of his ex-ministers, who ignored court summonses to appear for questioning on Thursday over their role in an independence referendum.

“The warrant will most likely be issued on Friday,” a High Court source told Reuters.

The five fled to Brussels on Monday after unilaterally declaring the region of Catalonia independent from Spain. They are among 20 regional politicians ordered to face charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement — crimes that are punishable by up to 30 years in prison under Spanish law.

Catalonian cabinet members arrive at court in Madrid

Dismissed Catalan cabinet members arrive at Spain’s High Court after being summoned to testify on charges of rebellion

What has happened so far:

  • Spain’s Catalonia region holds an independence referendum on October 1 that was declared illegal by the central government in Madrid
  • Catalonia’s leaders unilaterally declare independence from Spain on October 27
  • Madrid triggers constitutional powers allowing it to take over running Catalonia
  • Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismisses the Catalan cabinet and dissolves the regional parliament 
  • Spanish prosecutors file rebellion charges against Catalan leaders
  • Carles Puigdemont travels to Brussels with several ex-cabinet ministers, saying he is seeking “freedom and safety”

Eight leaders jailed without bail

Eight Catalan leaders who did appear in court Thursday, including former Vice President Oriol Junqueras, were sent to prison without bail pending an investigation into the secessionist campaign and a potential trial. Former Business Minister Santi Vila, who stepped down from the cabinet before the independence declaration, was granted bail of 50,000 euros ($58,300).  

The judge said the defendants must be remanded in custody because they were a flight risk and may try to destroy evidence.

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“The defendants have played an active role by propelling the carefully designed secessionist process and overcoming all kinds of obstacles that could make them deviate from their final objective,” the judge told the court. 

Shortly after the decision, Puigdemont said on Twitter that the “legitimate government of Catalonia has been sent to jail for its ideas and for having been faithful to the mandate approved by the parliament of Catalonia.”

Lawyers for the nine leaders said the ruling “lacked justification” and was “disproportionate,” adding that they planned to appeal.

Lawyer: Puigdemont to cooperate

If an arrest warrant against Puigdemont is announced Friday, he could be detained by Belgian police and subsequently face extradition to Spain. It would also make his participation in a snap Catalonian regional election called by Madrid on December 21 unlikely.

“I can only say that the law will be applied if we receive (the European arrest warrant),” Belgium’s prosecutor told Spain’s EFE news agency.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer says his client will not be seeking asylum in Belgium and intends to cooperate with Belgian authorities, if necessary. The lawyer, Paul Bekaert, told Associated Press Puigdemont would turn himself in to police if an arrest warrant is ultimately issued.

“We will put in place everything we can in order to collaborate with the Belgian police,” he said.

Renewed protests

Also on Thursday, six other Catalan lawmakers appeared in a parallel session in the Supreme Court, where they were given a week to prepare their defense ahead of a new hearing on November 9.

A small group of protesters with Spanish flags gathered and in other Catalan towns to show their support for the jailed pro-independence politicians.

Protests in Barcelona

Thousands of people gathered in Barcelona to demand the release of Catalan leaders jailed by the High Court

DW reporter Charlotte Chelsom Pill, who was at the scene, said demonstrators chanted “we are not afraid” as they waited for the return of the six Catalan officials who appeared in the Supreme Court.

Javier Melero, a lawyer representing some of the separatist lawmakers who appeared in the Supreme Court, criticized Puigdemont and the four ministers who didn’t show, saying their actions would be damaging for his clients. 

“Not being at the service of the judiciary when you are summoned is always damaging for the rest of those being investigated,” Melero said.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, the self-proclaimed “legitimate government of Catalonia” said that Puigdemont and his four colleagues would remain in Belgium during the court proceedings in order to denounce “a political trial carried out according to the Spanish government’s directive.”

Catalonia’s push for independence has triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.  

 

nm/rt (Reuters, EFE, dpa)

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