Spain likely to seek arrest of ousted Catalan leader, top judge says

Spain likely to seek arrest of ousted Catalan leader, top judge says

MADRID -Reuters
Spain likely to seek arrest of ousted Catalan leader, top judge says

Spanish courts are likely to issue a European arrest warrant for former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, now in Belgium, after he failed to appear at a hearing on Nov. 2, Spain’s top judge said.

Other leaders of the independence drive, that has brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets of Barcelona both for and against a break with Madrid, faced a Spanish court and prosecution demands they be held in custody.

Puigdemont’s lawyer in Belgium, where he has travelled with four members of his sacked cabinet, said the climate in Spain was “not good” and his client wanted to maintain some distance; but he would cooperate with the courts.

“If they ask, he will cooperate with Spanish and Belgian justice,” lawyer Paul Bekaert told Reuters.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sacked Puigdemont and his government last week, hours after the Catalan parliament made a unilateral declaration of independence - a vote boycotted by the opposition and declared illegal by Spanish courts.

Puigdemont said on Nov. 1 he would ignore a court order to return to Spain to answer charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds relating to the region’s secessionist push. He did not turn up at a High Court hearing on Nov. 2.

“When someone doesn’t appear after being cited by a judge to testify, in Spain or any other EU country, normally an arrest warrant is issued,” said Supreme Court President Carlos Lesmes who is also the head of the General Council of the Judiciary, Spain’s top judicial body.

Puigdemont said on Oct. 31 he would go back to Spain only if given unspecified guarantees by the Spanish government.

A decision on a European warrant will be taken by a High Court judge following the testimony of the remaining nine members of Puigdemont’s sacked cabinet, including former vice-president Oriol Junqueras.

Five senior regional lawmakers and the speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, were also summoned by the Supreme Court, which handles the cases of people who enjoy parliamentary immunity.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court agreed on Nov. 2 to give one more week to Forcadell and the Catalan lawmakers to prepare their defense and a new hearing will take place on Nov. 9.

All the members of the dismissed Catalan cabinet but one declined to answer questions from the state prosecutor and the High Court judge who is expected to open an investigation that could take several years and potentially lead to a trial.

Catalan referendum, Catalonia,