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Ousted Catalan premier should testify in Belgium, says his lawyer

If Carles Puigdemont does not show up at Spanish court on Thursday, judge may issue EU arrest warrant

Lawyer Paul Bekaert in his office in Tielt, Belgium.
Lawyer Paul Bekaert in his office in Tielt, Belgium. REUTERS

The lawyer in Belgium for sacked Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont said he wants his client to testify in that country in connection with a criminal investigation into sedition and rebellion.

“He is not going to Madrid and I suggested that they question him here in Belgium,” said Paul Bekaert in statements to The Associated Press.

Bekaert said Puigdemont has no intention of returning to Spain because “it is highly probable that he will be arrested.”

The judge has told Puigdemont and ex-members of his cabinet to pay a combined bond of €6.2 million

The Spanish judiciary has initiated legal proceedings against 20 Catalan politicians involved in the declaration of independence passed in the regional parliament last Friday.

Puigdemont and 13 members of his government – all ousted by Madrid as part of the application of emergency powers in the region using Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution – have been summoned to appear in the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s High Court, on Thursday and Friday of this week.

Meanwhile, six members of the speakers’ committee of the Catalan parliament, including Speaker Carme Forcadell, have been summoned to appear in the Spanish Supreme Court on Thursday and Friday.

All face possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Rebellion carries a maximum prison term of 30 years.

The former Catalan premier said he would only return to Spain if he received “guarantees of a fair trial”

Speaking on Dutch television last night, Paul Bekaert, the lawyer for Puigdemont, said his client would not appear in court in Spain this week, and that they would appeal all attempts at extradition.

 However, Puigdemont himself has yet to make a public comment on whether he will show up. If he does not appear in court, prosecutors could ask Lamela to order a European arrest warrant.

The summons from the High Court and Supreme Court came hot on the heels of announcements that both courts had accepted formal accusations filed by Spanish prosecutors.

Boos and insults

J.J. Gálvez

A number of former members of the sacked government of Carles Puigdemont returned to Spain late yesterday evening after appearing alongside the former regional premier in Brussels during his press conference.

Former interior department chief Joaquim Forn arrived at Barcelona’s El Prat airport at 11pm and was greeted with shouts of “traitor,” “dog,” and “to prison!” On the same flight was sacked employment chief Dolors Bassa, while various media outlets reported that former culture chief Lluís Puig had also been on the plane.

After collecting their baggage, the politicians were met by a small group waving Spanish flags who insulted and booed them.

“Where is Puigdemont?” shouted one of the dozen or so anti-independence demonstrators.

The High Court judge overseeing the case, Carmen Lamela, said Puigdemont and the 13 members of his government named in the state prosecutor’s action would have to pay a combined bond of €6.2 million – the same sum allegedly taken from the public coffers in Catalonia to help fund the illegal independence referendum on October 1. If that sum is not paid in three days, their assets could be seized.

Lamela noted that while Puigdemont and his government have not yet been formally charged, she understood that he and members of his cabinet had “plotted a strategy in which all of the secessionist moment was perfectly organized, with the roles shared between government and parliamentary authorities and civic associations.”

The judge said Puidgemont and the members of his government would be questioned and cautionary measures considered at the hearings, including the possibility of having them remanded in custody.

But speaking at a highly-anticipated press conference in Brussels on Tuesday, after the shock news that he had traveled to the Belgian capital after the independence declaration on Friday, the former Catalan premier said he would only return to Spain if he received “guarantees of a fair trial.”

Puigdemont denied reports he was in Belgium to claim political asylum, saying instead that he wanted to draw attention to the politicized nature of the Spanish justice system.

English version by George Mills.

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