Spanish judge issues European arrest warrant for Puigdemont

Belgium says it will have no influence over future of Catalonia’s deposed president

A Spanish judge has ordered eight members of the deposed government of Catalonia jailed while they are investigated on possible charges of sedition, rebellion and embezzlement. Video: Reuters

 

A Spanish judge has issued an international arrest warrant for Catalonia’s deposed president a day after she jailed eight members of the region’s separatist government pending possible charges over last week’s declaration of independence.

In the latest twist in Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades, a national court judge issued a European arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont in response to a request from state prosecutors.

Mr Puigdemont flew to Brussels earlier this week with a handful of his deposed ministers after Spanish authorities removed him and his cabinet from office for pushing ahead with the declaration despite repeated warnings that it was illegal.

Mr Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer has already said his client will fight extradition without seeking political asylum.

Belgium’s justice minister Koen Geens has said his government will have no influence over the future of Mr Puigdemont.

Mr Geens said “is a completely legal procedure”.

He said that, unlike a normal international extradition, “the executive power does not play any role in the EAW procedure. Everything goes through direct contact between the justice authorities.”

Mr Puigdemont was summoned to appear at Spain’s national court on Thursday to give evidence relating to possible charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, but failed to appear. He has said he will only return to Spain if he is offered guarantees that the judicial process he will face will be fair.

Mr Puigdemont has said he is willing to co-operate with the Belgian judiciary but that he has lost confidence in Spanish justice, which he says has become politicised.

In a written request to the judge, prosecutors said that Mr Puigdemont and four other members of his administration were aware that they had been ordered to testify, but had chosen not to attend.

Of the nine former ministers who did appear in court in Madrid on Thursday, eight were jailed.

A ninth Catalan minister, Santi Vila, was released from custody on Friday after posting bail of €50,000. Mr Vila, who resigned from Mr Puigdemont’s government a day before the independence declaration appealed, called for action as he left prison near Madrid, saying: “I ask for all political parties across to Spain, appealing to their democratic values, to put an end this terrible situation that has put politicians in prison.”

‘Not politically motivated’

The Spanish government has insisted that the detentions were not politically motivated.

Spain’s education minister, Inigo Mendez de Vigo, said the matter had been decided by a judge, adding the government was instead focusing on elections called by prime minister Mariano Rajoy for December.

“There is a separation of powers in Spain and what happened yesterday is in the realm of the justice system and beyond the reach of the government,” Mr Mendez de Vigo said on Friday.

“What the government guarantees is that there will be elections where the parties which want to run can present their programmes, and we hope that the election can end this period of uncertainty and the deterioration of harmonious coexistence in Catalonia. ”

Lawyers for those under investigation said their clients would appeal against the judge’s decision, which they described as unjustified, disproportionate and predetermined.

In a televised address on Thursday evening, Mr Puigdemont branded the detention of his colleagues a “very serious attack on democracy” and called for their immediate release.

Speaking as thousands of people protested across Catalonia, he said: “Imprisoning political leaders for fulfilling an electoral commitment breaks down the basic principles of democracy.”

On Friday, judges at the national court refused an appeal to release two grassroots pro-independence leaders who were remanded in custody last month as part of a separate investigation into alleged sedition.

The jailing of Jordi Sanchez, the president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, the president of Òmnium Cultural, brought hundreds of thousands of Catalans out on to the streets in protest.

Convulsed by crisis

A parallel supreme court session for six parliamentary officials, including Carme Forcadell, the speaker of the regional parliament, was postponed until next week following a request from their lawyers.

Spain has been convulsed by crisis since Mr Puigdemont’s government held a unilateral independence referendum in defiance of Spain’s government, constitution and constitutional court on October 1st.

Minutes after a vote in the Catalan parliament – boycotted by opposition MPs – in favour of independence last Friday – the Spanish senate granted the government in Madrid unprecedented powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia under article 155 of the constitution.

Mr Rajoy used the article to sack Mr Puigdemont and his government and announce snap regional elections on December 21st.

Mr Puigdemont said on Friday that he was ready to stand in the election, telling Belgian state television RTBF: “It’s possible to run a campaign from anywhere.”

“We consider ourselves a legitimate government,” he said. “There must be a continuity to tell the world what’s going on in Spain – It’s not with a government in jail that the elections will be neutral, independent, normal.”

A previous commitment to accept the election results had allayed fears that secessionists might boycott the ballot in the hope of denying it legitimacy.– Guardian service and PA