Saturday 24 August 2019

Arrest warrant for Puigdemont is issued as colleagues are jailed

Former Catalan cabinet member Santi Vila, centre, walks out of prison after being released on bail in Estremera, Spain, yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Former Catalan cabinet member Santi Vila, centre, walks out of prison after being released on bail in Estremera, Spain, yesterday. Photo: Reuters

James Badcock

Spain's judiciary has issued a European arrest warrant for Carles Puig'demont and the four other former Catalan ministers who have sought refuge in Belgium, his lawyer said.

Paul Bekaert said that the deposed Catalan leader would seek to avoid returning to Spain for questioning.

He added that the process to extradite his client from Belgium to Spain could be a time-consuming procedure.

"The atmosphere is not good to give testimony at the moment, and it is better to take a step back," Mr Bekaert told Belgian television channel VRT.

Hours earlier a judge in Madrid had imprisoned nine members of the Catalan government removed from power by Spain's government after illegally declaring independence.

Eight of the nine former Catalan officials remanded in custody were denied bail by the high court judge.

The judge is investigating all 14 members of the deposed government on accusations of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public funds, crimes that carry jail terms of up to 30 years.

The lawyer added that Mr Puigdemont was prepared to cooperate with Belgium's prosecution service, which will deal with the arrest warrant.

Mr Bekaert had said in earlier statements that any extradition process from Belgium to Spain would take some time as the arrest warrant must be translated, processed by the Belgian federal police and state prosecutors.

Then Mr Puigdemont must collect the order and take it to an investigating judge's court, the lawyer explained.

That judge, Mr Bekaert said, "has various options". "They can have him arrested and handcuffed. But the investigating judge does not have to arrest him; he can also leave Mr Puigdemont at liberty, under certain conditions. I will try to go down these alternative routes".

The entire extradition process could take months, or even years.

From Belgium, Mr Puigdemont yesterday slammed the Spanish authorities for what he considers an "attack" on Catalonia's legitimate right to select its own leaders and future status.

He called on Catalans to protest against the Spanish authorities "without violence, peacefully and with respect for everybody's opinions".

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Barcelona and other cities in Catalonia on Thursday night after the news broke that the former regional officials had been imprisoned.

The jailings set off a new round of protests in Catalonia. Several thousand people gathered on Thursday night in Barcelona and other towns to call for their release.

Mr Puigdemont and his cabinet were removed by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last week a day after the Catalan parliament voted in favour of a declaration of independence.

Mr Rajoy used extraordinary powers given to him by the Senate to depose the separatists, dissolve the regional legislature and call an early regional election.

Mr Puigdemont surfaced in Belgium on Tuesday with some of his ex-ministers, saying they were seeking "freedom and safety" there.

In all, Spanish prosecutors are investigating 20 regional politicians for rebellion and other crimes.

Irish Independent

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