Spanish judge withdraws European arrest warrant for former Catalan leader Puigdemont

Frederick Owens
December 6, 2017

A Spanish judge withdrew an arrest warrant today for the former leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and four other ministers who relocated to Belgium after declaring independence from Spain and subsequently lost their jobs when Madrid took control of the restive region.

A Supreme Court spokesman said that the five could still be arrested if they go back to Spain, however, because they are still being sought at home for possible crimes on charges of sedition, rebellion, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust.

The decision does not mean that Puigdemont, who faces charges of rebellion, would not be arrested if he returned to Spain, where he is still wanted by judicial authorities.

Puigdemont is in self-imposed exile in Belgium after an illegal independence referendum. The charges carry maximum penalties of decades in prison.

Last month, Spain's central government issued the warrants for Puigdemont and four of his allies-Meritxell Serret, former agriculture minister; Antoni Comín, former health minister; Lluís Puig, former culture minister; and Clara Ponsatí, former education minister.

However, pro-independence parties view the election as a proxy vote on a split from Spain.

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"We also highlighted the danger for the impediment of their human rights in Spain", Bekaert said.

Independence never materialised, however, as Madrid sacked the Catalan government after the declaration on Oct 27, imposed direct rule on the once semi-autonomous region and called elections for Dec 21 in a bid to "restore normality". Polls show both sides neck and neck on a high turnout.

"Those who commit criminal acts must place themselves at the mercy of legal rulings", Zoido said. But 53-year-old contractor Jose Luis Aguirre said the attempt to unilaterally break away from Spain "is an act that can not be allowed".

Puigdemont's party, Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), could not be immediately reached for comment.

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.

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

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