Belgium confirms receipt of arrest warrants for Catalan politicians

Puigdemont calls for united political front in December election to continue independence drive

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


Belgian federal prosecutors have confirmed they have received European Arrest Warrants from Spain for five people including ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

The prosecutor’s office said on Saturday that “once the persons involved are found and brought before an investigating judge, (the judge) will have 24 hours to make a decision”.

It said the judge can decide whether or not to arrest the five politicians and whether they should be kept in custody for promoting independence for Catalonia.

The five were named as Mr Puigdemont, Maria Serret Aleu, Antoni Comin Oliveres, Lluis Puig Gordi and Clara Ponsati Obiols, who are all in hiding.

Prosecutors said on Friday that they could bring the five in over the weekend or even on Monday, saying that investigators “are in no hurry”.

Mr Puigdemont and several aides fled to Belgium after they were fired by Spanish authorities when politicians in Catalonia voted to declare independence from Spain despite repeated warnings that it would violate the nation’s constitution.

On Saturday Mr Puigdemont called for a united political front in the December 21st election to continue the drive for independence from Spain and to protest the imprisonment of former members of the regional government.

“It is time for all democrats to join together.

For Catalonia, for the freedom of political prisoners and for the republic,” Mr Puigdemont said in a tweet that included the hashtag, a site calling for parties to unite against the Spanish government at the ballot box.

Carles Puigdemont (L) and the four former members of Catalan government who are in hiding: (top L-R) Antoni Comin, Lluis Puig, Meritxell Serret, and Clara Ponsati. Photograph: EPA
Carles Puigdemont (L) and the four former members of Catalan government who are in hiding: (top L-R) Antoni Comin, Lluis Puig, Meritxell Serret, and Clara Ponsati. Photograph: EPA

Signatures on the website rose to over 27,000 from just 2,000 within a couple of hours of Mr Puigdemont’s tweet on Saturday morning.

The deepening crisis over Catalonia is Spain’s worst constitutional challenge in nearly four decades. Mr Puigdemont and the four other former ministers are being sought for five different crimes, including rebellion, sedition and embezzlement in a Spanish investigation into their roles in pushing for secession for Catalonia.

Earlier, Belgian justice minister Koen Geens said his government would have no influence over the future of Mr Puigdemont or the four other Catalan officials because the European Arrest Warrants issued by Spain are “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’s Belgian lawyer did not answer calls requesting comment on the arrest warrant but has said his client will fight extradition to Spain without seeking political asylum. Belgian federal prosecutors say they could question Mr Puigdemont in the coming days.

Mr Puigdemont has said he would be willing to co-operate with the Belgian judiciary but that he had lost confidence in Spanish justice, which he claimed has become politicised. –AP and Reuters