Catalonia crisis: Spain jails eight sacked Catalan ministers

Move comes as Spanish prosecutors move for arrest warrant against disputed president

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Thursday 02 November 2017 17:20
Comments
Former members of the Catalan government arrive at Spain's National High Court on Thursday
Former members of the Catalan government arrive at Spain's National High Court on Thursday

Eight sacked Catalan ministers have been jailed by a Spanish judge over their role in the region's declaration of independence.

The move comes as prosecutors ask judges to issue an international arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont, the disputed Catalan president who fled to Brussels, as well as four other former ministers who did not show up to court on Thursday.

The former members of the regional government are accused of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds. The crimes are punishable by 30 years in prison.

The region held an independence referendum on 1 October that was declared illegal under Spain's constitution. The Catalan parliament went on to declare independence, leading the Spanish state to revoke the region's autonomy, impose direct rule, and call new elections.

The National Court has been questioning ousted Catalan government members but a parallel Supreme Court session for six Catalan politicians was postponed for a week.

Twenty regional politicians, including fired regional government president Mr Puigdemont, were called to appear.

Speaking in Madrid on Thursday supreme court president Carlos Lesmes said: "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."

In a statement the exiled Catalan government, which has had its powers suspended by Spanish authorities, denounced the “political trial” which it said was “without a legal basis that only seeks to punish ideas”.

Mr Puigdemont said he and his colleagues would remain in Brussels “not to evade justice but to demand it”, criticising the court’s planned “disproportionate penalties equivalent to murder or terrorism”.

He had spoken to a packed press conference in Brussels on Tuesday where he said the Spanish government was intent on seeking “vengeance” against him.

Though he has said he will not formally claim asylum in the country, the president has hired a Belgian lawyer with experience in resisting extradition attempts.

The lawyer, Paul Bekaert, told Spain’s TV3 channel: “He will not go to Madrid and I have suggested that he be questioned here in Belgium.”

The Madrid government has called snap Catalan regional elections for 21 December in order to elect a new Catalan parliament, after the current one voted to declare independence.

The Catalan separatists have said they will accept the result of the polls.

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