Spanish judge mulls arrest warrant for ex-Catalan leader
By ARITZ PARRA | Associated Press | Published: November 2, 2017
MADRID — A Spanish judge is deliberating Friday on whether to issue an international arrest warrant for Catalonia's ousted leader a day after she jailed nine former members of the region's separatist government.
Catalan ex-president Carles Puigdemont flew to Brussels this week after Spanish authorities removed him and his 13-member Cabinet from office for pushing ahead with secession despite repeated warnings that it was illegal.
If an arrest warrant is issued, Puigdemont will fight extradition without seeking political asylum, according to his Belgian lawyer.
A panel of National Court judges will also consider on Friday an appeal to release two separatist activists who were jailed last month in a sedition investigation.
Assemblea Nacional Catalana leader Jordi Sanchez, and Omnium Cultural's Jordi Cuixart, are investigated in a sedition case for allegedly orchestrating protests in mid-September that hindered efforts to prevent a banned independence referendum.
Puigdemont was due to appear at Spain's National Court on Thursday to answer questions in a rebellion case brought by Spanish prosecutors, but he didn't show up.
Investigative magistrate Carmen Lamela sent eight of nine Catalan ex-officials who appeared for questioning, including former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras, to jail without bail.
On Friday, the judge ordered the release of Santi Vila, the former regional minister for business, after he posted bail of 50,000 euros (about $58,000). His passport was confiscated and Vila needs to show up in court regularly as the rebellion, sedition and embezzlement probe continues.
Vila resigned in protest a day before Catalonia's parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence on Oct. 27.
Prosecutors also requested an international warrant seeking Puigdemont's arrest. Under Spain's legal system, investigating judges can have suspects detained while a comprehensive probe, sometimes taking months, determines if they should be charged.
The jailing of the former Catalan government officials set off a new round of protests back in northeastern Catalonia. Several thousand people gathered on Thursday night in the main city of Barcelona and other towns to call for their release.
Puigdemont and his Cabinet were removed by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last week a day after the Catalan parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence. Rajoy used extraordinary powers given to him by the Senate to depose the separatists, dissolve the regional legislature and call a regional election for Dec. 21.
Puigdemont surfaced in Belgium on Tuesday with some of his ex-ministers, saying they were seeking "freedom and safety" there. He and four of the officials remained in Brussels on Thursday.
Spain's Supreme Court is also investigating six members of Catalonia's parliament. The court postponed a hearing Thursday until next week to allow more time for them to prepare their defenses in the case.
In all, Spanish prosecutors are investigating 20 regional politicians for rebellion and other crimes that would be punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
The Catalan secession push is the worst institutional crisis to hit Spain in nearly four decades.
Spain's central bank said on Thursday that a protracted political conflict could damage Spain's, and especially Catalonia's, economy. More than 1,000 companies have already relocated their headquarters from Catalonia to other parts of Spain because of the uncertainty.
Spain's Ministry of Employment and Social Security said Friday that Catalonia led Spain's 17 autonomous communities in job loss in October with nearly 15,000 more people out of work.
Joseph Wilson contributed to this report from Barcelona.