A Spanish judge is planning to issue an arrest warrant for ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemonton Friday, judicial sources have told several media outlets. Nine former members of Catalonia's separatist government have already been detained.
Puigdemont's lawyer in Belgium also said the arrest warrant had been prepared, but there has not yet been official confirmation from Spain's government.
Prosecutors had asked Investigative Magistrate Carmen Lamela to order the immediate detention of Puigdemont and four of his ex-ministers, who ignored court summonses to appear for questioning on Thursday over their role in an independence referendum.
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.
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."
What has happened so far:
- Spain's Catalonia region held an independence referendum on October 1 that was declared illegal by the central government in Madrid
- Catalonia's leaders unilaterally declared independence from Spain on October 27
- Madrid exercised constitutional powers allowing it to take over the running of Catalonia
- Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed the Catalan cabinet and dissolved the regional parliament
- Spanish prosecutors filed rebellion charges against Catalan leaders
- Carles Puigdemont traveled to Brussels with several ex-cabinet ministers, saying he was 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 might try to destroy evidence.
Lawyers for the nine leaders said the ruling "lacked justification" and was "disproportionate," adding that they planned to appeal.
Shortly after the decision, Puigdemont said on Twitter that the "legitimate government of Catalonia had been sent to jail for its ideas and for having been faithful to the mandate approved by the parliament of Catalonia."
Lawyer: Puigdemont could appeal
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 The Associated Press Puigdemont would turn himself in to police if an arrest warrant was ultimately issued.
Later, however, he added that his client would appeal if a Belgian judge approved an extradition.
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.
Protesters with Catalan flags gathered in Barcelona and other Catalan towns to show their support for the jailed pro-independence politicians.
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.
Catalonia's push for independence has triggered Spain's worst political crisis in decades. tj/ng (Reuters, EFE, dpa, AFP)