World

Warrant for Carles Puigdemont, Catalan Separatist, Is Dropped

Warrant for Carles Puigdemont, Catalan Separatist, Is Dropped

Hours before pro-secession parties held evening rallies to launching their bids for seats in the Catalan parliament, a Supreme Court judge in Madrid ruled that four prominent members of the region's independence movement must remain jailed without bail.

Tuesday's action leaves Puigdemont and the ex-officials with two options - return to Spain and be arrested or remain in self-imposed exile.

The explanation Llarena gave for his decision was that the crime of "rebellion", which carries a possible prison sentence of 30 years, does not exist in Belgium, meaning that if Puigdemont was returned to Spain by the Belgian authorities, it would be to face the lesser charge of misuse of public funds and the Spanish court would not be able to try him for the more serious offense.

The five Catalans, on Monday, were given a 14 December date by a Belgian court, for a decision on whether to grant a European arrest warrant and extradite them.

Mr Puigdemont, who is standing for re-election to the regional parliament, would nearly certainly face arrest on his return, as the charges of rebellion and sedition against him have not been lifted.

He also "highlighted the danger for the impediment of their human rights" in Spain, which provoked strong condemnation when photographs were published revealing violent attacks on voters by police during the October referendum.

Lawyers defending ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont arrive at the court in Brussels on Monday
Lawyers defending ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont arrive at the court in Brussels on Monday

On Tuesday, campaigning began for the December 21 Catalan regional election that Madrid called in an attempt to resolve the crisis by installing an administration in favor of Spanish unity.

Political parties in Catalonia started campaigning Monday for the early regional election called by the Spanish government in hopes of quashing the region's independence movement and featuring candidates who are either in jail or living overseas to avoid detention. Polls show both sides neck and neck on a high turnout.

Bekaert said legal proceedings in Belgium were now over.

Puigdemont's party, Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), could not be immediately reached for comment. Puigdemont would be arrested if he went to Spain, he said.

That's one week before the regional election in which Puigdemont is leading his pro-independence party's ticket as its presidential candidate.

Because the Belgian penal code doesn't have an equivalent for a charge of "rebellion", the Spanish court withdrew the worldwide warrants to allow for legal action against Puigdemont, as rebellion is one of the most serious crimes attributed to him.