Spain likely to seek arrest of ousted
Catalan leader, top judge says
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[November 02, 2017]
By Raquel Castillo and Julien Toyer
MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish courts are
likely to issue a European arrest warrant for former Catalan president
Carles Puigdemont after he failed to appear at a Spanish court hearing
on Thursday, Spain's top judge said.
Puigdemont's lawyer in Belgium, where he has traveled with four members
of his sacked cabinet, said the climate in Spain was "not good" and his
client wanted to take "some distance"; but he would cooperate with the
"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 on
Friday, 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 Wednesday 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 Thursday.
"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.
An arrest warrant would make it virtually impossible for Puigdemont to
stand in a snap election in the wealthy region called by the Spanish
government for Dec. 21.
The decision 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.
The Supreme Court agreed on Thursday 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.
By 1015 GMT, five members of the dismissed Catalan cabinet had already
testified before the High Court judge who is due to decide at this first
hearing whether she starts a comprehensive investigation that could take
several years and potentially lead to a trial.
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Sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont attends a news conference at
the Press Club Brussels Europe in Brussels, Belgium, October 31,
2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
She will also determine whether those called to testify should go to
jail pending the investigation. She might also grant them
conditional bail or order them to surrender their passports.
The courts have already told the Catalan secessionist leaders to
deposit 6.2 million euros ($7.2 million) by Friday to cover
Puigdemont said on Tuesday he would go back to Spain only if given
unspecified "guarantees" by the Spanish government.
Following a tumultuous month, attention is gradually turning to the
Cracks have appeared within the pro-independence coalition of
centre-right and far-left parties as well as inside Puigdemont's own
PdeCat (Democratic Catalan Party) where some of his allies are now
pushing for a negotiated solution with the central government.
The struggle has also divided Catalonia itself and caused deep
resentment across the rest of Spain, although separatist sentiment
persists in the Basque Country and some other areas.
Two recent opinion polls showed support for independence may have
started to wane.
But an official regional survey published on Tuesday showed some
48.7 percent of Catalans believe the region should be independent,
up from 41.1 pct in June and the highest since December 2014.
(Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels)
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