Spanish Court Suspends Puigdemont’s Return To Power In Catalonia

(File copy) Carles Puigdemont

Spain’s constitutional court on Saturday announced it was blocking Catalonia’s ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont from returning to power in the region while he remains the subject of legal action.

The court said in a statement that its 12 magistrates had decided unanimously “to preventively suspend the investiture of Puigdemont unless he appears in the (regional) parliament in person with prior judicial authorisation”.

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the Catalan parliament declared independence in October, was earlier this week chosen as a candidate to lead Catalonia again, with the regional parliament set to vote for a new leader on Tuesday in Barcelona.

However, he faces arrest for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his attempt to break Catalonia away from Spain as soon as he returns to the country.

Puigdemont has said he could be sworn in to office remotely via videoconference from Brussels, a plan Spain’s central government opposes.

He has also said he would rather return to Spain, but without any risk of arrest.

The constitutional court warned all members of the Catalan parliament of “their responsibilities” and warned against disobeying the order to suspend any investiture.

The magistrates said they needed six more days to consider a government bid to annul the nomination of Puigdemont as a candidate for the regional presidency.

“The government must use every tool made available by the laws and the constitution to make sure that a fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately be sworn in,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Friday after the government lodged the legal bid to keep Puigdemont from returning to power.

After the court’s announcement, Puigdemont tweeted that “even the constitutional court has rejected the tricks of Moncloa,” referring to the prime minister’s official residence.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Twitter that “the government would continue to do its duty in respecting the law”.

Catalonia’s ousted separatist government pushed ahead with an independence referendum on October 1 despite it having been banned by the Constitutional Court.

It won the public vote but Catalonia’s independence declaration on October 27 was short-lived as Rajoy moved to stop the crisis in a region deeply divided over secession.

He imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region, sacked its government including Puigdemont, dissolved its parliament and called snap elections.


Puigdemont Accuses EU Of Not Defending Rights In Catalonia

Spain Prosecutors Say Immunity Won't Save Ex-Catalan Leader From Arrest
Catalonia’s ousted regional president Carles Puigdemont (C) 

Catalonia’s sacked president Carles Puigdemont on Monday repeated accusations that the European Union is failing to defend fundamental rights in the wealthy Spanish region.

During his first foreign visit since leaving Spain to live in voluntary exile in Brussels on 30 October, Puigdemont told students at the University of Copenhagen the EU showed “failures” in the face of crises both inside and outside its borders.

“The EU has been a success in promoting freedom, democracy, prosperity and welfare on our continent,” he said. “However, we’re all aware of each failure every time there is a crisis.

“We saw it in Greece, we saw it in Ukraine, we saw it with the refugees and now we see it with the failure to defend the fundamental rights in Catalonia,” he added.

Charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, Puigdemont faces arrest if he returns to Spain over his role in the independence drive.

Catalonia’s parliament on Monday proposed Puigdemont as president of the region following a snap election in December in which separatist parties once again won an absolute majority.

According to the former leader “Catalan citizens see great concerns on some developments happening around EU institutions”.

“We are of course pro-Europeans but we cannot close our eyes for each failure, we want more integration but only if it leads to more democracy and a uniformed application of the EU law in all member states.”


Spain Prosecutors Say Immunity Won’t Save Ex-Catalan Leader From Arrest

Spain Prosecutors Say Immunity Won't Save Ex-Catalan Leader From Arrest Puigdemont
(Files) Catalan regional government president Carles Puigdemont delivers a speech on the sidelines of a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the 77th anniversary of the death of Catalan leader Lluis Companys at the Montjuic Cemetery in Barcelona on October 15, 2017. PAU BARRENA / AFP


Catalonia’s ex-leader Carles Puigdemont, currently exiled in Brussels after a failed independence bid, faces arrest if he returns home despite having parliamentary immunity, Spanish prosecutors said Saturday. 

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in late October after Madrid sacked his cabinet over their breakaway attempt, is eyeing a return to power after scoring big in regional elections in December.

But back at home, he risks being detained on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

Several other separatist lawmakers are already in custody in Spain over their role in the regional parliament unilaterally declaring independence on October 27.

“It’s inadmissible that the privilege of parliamentary immunity should be interpreted as impunity,” the office of Spain’s general prosecutor said in a statement.

“The guarantee of immunity does not mean that we can’t place him in custody on a court order,” the statement said.

“By running away and supporting acts which culminated in the declaration of independence, (Puigdemont) shows that he persists in his criminal plan.”

Prosecutors also pointed to the separatist leaders already behind bars, saying they were also detained despite their parliamentary immunity because of the “extreme gravity” of the facts.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had decided not to free former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, in custody since November 2.

Judges said there was a risk he would “re-offend as there is no sign that the defendant has any intention of abandoning the route he has followed until now”.

Junqueras and Puigdemont were instrumental in Catalonia’s push to break away from Spain via a referendum that took place on October 1 despite a court ban.

– Ruling from abroad ‘illegal’ –

In a major blow to the central government in Madrid, pro-independence parties won an absolute majority in regional elections on December 21.

As the sole candidate from Catalonia’s separatist grouping, Puigdemont announced this week that he could govern the region from Brussels if he is re-elected president.

The parliamentary vote to choose a new Catalan leader is due to take place by the end of January.

But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy reiterated Saturday that governing Catalonia from abroad would be “illegal”.

Echoing remarks he made Monday, Rajoy said Madrid would maintain its direct control over Catalonia and will take the matter to court if Puigdemont sought remote rule.

The Catalan parliament’s legal experts say any presidential contender has to be physically present, but Puigdemont insists he has the legitimate mandate of the people to rule.

He wants to present his candidacy and government programme to parliament — a prerequisite to being voted in — remotely via videolink or by having someone else read it for him.

His lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas said Saturday all scenarios were currently being considered.

“President Puigdemont never dismissed the possibility of presenting and submitting his candidacy in person,” the lawyer told Catalonian public television, adding that his client was “aware of the risks he faces”.

Alonso-Cuevillas has previously said that Puigdemont “could not be arrested” in Barcelona because of his immunity.


Madrid To Keep Control Of Catalonia If Puigdemont Tries To Govern Remotely – Spain

Catalonia’s ousted regional president Carles Puigdemont (C) holds his first post-election meeting for members of his parliamentary group in Brussels on January 12, 2018. 

Spain’s prime minister warned Monday that Madrid would maintain unpopular direct control of Catalonia if the former regional leader Carles Puigdemont tries to govern again from exile in Belgium.

Speaking to party members in Madrid, Mariano Rajoy said that Puigdemont had “to be physically present” in Catalonia to take office, and if that didn’t happen, the central government would maintain direct rule imposed after Catalan leaders declared independence in October.

Puigdemont is the separatist camp’s favoured candidate to lead Catalonia again after pro-independence parties won an absolute majority in December regional elections.

But he is in self-imposed exile in Belgium and risks arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for his role in the region’s failed independence bid if he comes back to Spain.

To be elected regional president, he should in theory be present at the parliamentary session where the vote takes place, but he wants to appear by videolink or write a speech and have it read by someone else.

If that is allowed — and legal experts doubt this can be done — Puigdemont would then have to officially take office from Belgium and could try to govern the region remotely.

Direct rule on Catalonia is very unpopular in a region that enjoyed considerable autonomy before its leaders attempted to break away from Spain.

This prompted Rajoy to take control of the region, sack its government, dissolve its parliament and call the snap December elections.


Let Me Come Back, Catalan Leader Tells Spain

Catalonia’s separatist leader Carles Puigdemont


Catalonia’s separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Saturday called on the Spanish government to allow him to return to Spain in time for the opening session of the Catalan parliament by January 23 so that he can become the region’s next president.

Puigdemont, who ruled in Catalonia until October and faces arrest in Spain for his role in organising an illegal referendum on independence and proclaiming a Catalan republic, is currently in a self-imposed exile in Belgium.

Separatist parties secured a parliamentary majority in a regional election on Thursday (December 21), though it is still unclear whether Puigdemont and other jailed leaders of the movement will be able to attend the sessions of the assembly.

“I would like to come back to Catalonia right now and it would be good news, not only for me and my family and for Catalonia logically but for Spain too. It would be good news for Spanish democracy to restore the democratic legality which the Spanish government interrupted,” Puigdemont told Reuters in an interview.

Puigdemont, who has called for a dialogue with the Spanish government to resolve the current tensions between the turbulent region and the authorities in Madrid, said he was ready to listen to any offer from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy even if this offer was short of independence.

Rajoy on Friday (December 22) said he was open to dialogue over Catalonia but implicitly rejected Puigdemont’s demand to meet soon, saying he would talk with whoever was Catalonia’s president only once they have been elected by the new regional parliament.

Before that, his first interlocutor should be Ines Arrimadas, whose centrist, anti-independence party scored most votes on Thursday, he said. Arrimadas does not have enough seats or allies to form a government, while separatist parties put together have a narrow majority.

Such calls for dialogue on both the separatist and unionist side in the past have failed to yield any solution, meaning this is a crisis that is likely to keep haunting Madrid, but also EU leaders, for a long time.

Negotiations to form a government in Catalonia are likely to start following a holiday break, after Jan. 6. Parliament must vote by Feb. 8 on putting a new government into place.


Puigdemont Mulls Whether To Return To Catalonia After Win

Axed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont arrives for a press conference on December 22, 2017 in Brussels, a day after the Catalonia’s regional election. Catalans flooded to the polls in a crucial election that could mark a turning point for their region, just two months after a failed secession bid triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was weighing up whether to return to the region, where he faces arrest, close aides said Saturday, after pro-independence parties defeated Spain’s central government in pivotal elections.

Puigdemont campaigned from Brussels, where he sought self-imposed exile after he was sacked by Madrid and a Spanish court charged him with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

After the divisive regional elections on Thursday, how the independence camp intends to rule remains a mystery, with other secessionist leaders, including Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras, behind bars pending trial.

When asked if Puigdemont was inclined to return to the region, one of his lawyers in Catalonia said: “In principle yes, but my advice is to evaluate the situation because the moment he comes back here he would be arrested.”

“We must assess if it is worth it, if he can do more inside than outside — obviously if he returns and is imprisoned, that would create… a very significant political conflict,” lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas told Catalunya Radio.

“We are studying all the scenarios,” said Elsa Artadi, Puigdemont’s campaign manager, told Rac1 radio on Saturday.

Artadi also called for talks with the central government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after the polls, in which the three pro-independence groupings won an absolute majority in the Catalan regional parliament with 47.5 percent of the vote.

Rajoy, meanwhile, has warned that the new Catalan government should fully respect the law, a reference to the former leaders’ defiance on October 1, when they went ahead with an independence referendum despite being banned by the Spanish courts.

Catalan lawmakers went on to declare independence, prompting Madrid to sack Puigdemont’s government, dissolve the regional parliament and call the snap elections that were held Thursday.

– ‘No majority for independence’ –
Puigdemont on Friday picked up where he had left off in the tug-of-war with his nemesis, calling on Rajoy to hold talks in Brussels or anywhere else in Europe — barring Spain.

Puigdemont’s statement was in line with his strategy throughout the crisis, positioning himself as an equal to the Spanish prime minister and seeking recognition from the international community.

But Rajoy quickly rejected the request.

“The person I should be meeting with is with the one who won the elections, and that is Mrs Arrimadas,” Rajoy said, referring to centrist, anti-independence candidate Ines Arrimadas, whose Ciudadanos party got the best individual result, with 37 seats and 25 percent of the vote.

“The top political force in Catalonia is Ciudadanos, a constitutional force,” Arrimadas said in an interview published Saturday in the El Mundo newspaper.

“It is fundamental to highlight the fact that there is no majority in Catalonia in favour of independence,” she said.

But Ciudadanos does not have the allies to form a government, with the three secessionist lists expected to reach an agreement to rule together with a 70-seat majority in parliament — two fewer seats than their previous tally.

As the crisis continues, the economy is at risk in a region that has seen its tourism sector suffer and more than 3,100 companies — including the largest banks, utilities and insurers — move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia.


Spain PM Rejects Ousted Catalan Leader’s Call To Meet

(L-R) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont


Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Friday rejected a call by ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to meet after separatists won a parliamentary majority in crucial regional polls.

“The person I should be meeting with is with the one who won the elections, and that is Mrs Arrimadas,” Rajoy said, replying to a journalist who asked whether he would respond to Puigdemont’s invitation for a meeting.

Rajoy was referring to centrist, anti-independence candidate Ines Arrimadas, whose Ciudadanos party won the best individual result in Thursday’s poll — even as the bloc of separatist parties maintained its absolute majority.

The prime minister meanwhile warned that the new Catalan government should fully respect the law.

This statement was a reference to the former government’s defiance on October 1, when it went held a referendum on independence despite a constitutional ban.

Catalan lawmakers went on to declare independence, prompting Madrid to sack Puigdemont’s government and dissolve the parliament.

It was then that Rajoy’s government called snap polls in Catalonia.

Rajoy also said that he was ready for “open, constructive and realistic dialogue” — but “always within the limits of legality”.


Ousted Catalan Leader Offers To Meet PM Outside Spain

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. LLUIS GENE / AFP

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Friday offered to meet Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy outside Spain for talks on the region’s independence crisis, a day after separatists won a parliamentary majority in snap polls.

Puigdemont was speaking to reporters in Brussels, where he fled after his region’s parliament declared independence from Spain. Should he return, he faces arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds.

“I am willing to meet Mr Rajoy in Brussels or in any other location in the EU, so long as it is not in the Spanish state, for obvious reasons,” he said.

The vote was widely seen as a moment of truth on the independence question, a divisive issue for the wealthy northern region, that has rattled a Europe already shaken by Brexit.

With the secessionists maintaining their parliamentary majority, the move to call snap polls appeared to backfire against Rajoy, who had sacked the regional government and dissolved its parliament over the independence declaration.


Catalonia On Knife-Edge As Pivotal Elections Loom

(L-R) Catalan regional president Puigdemont and vice president Oriol Junqueras. Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

Catalonia is in the final stretch before pivotal elections Thursday that could determine the course of a secession crisis that has thrown Spain into turmoil and rattled the European Union.

It is a campaign where the star candidates are in exile or in jail and where pro- and anti-independence parties for the December 21 polls are still neck-and-neck.

The upcoming vote has also been closely scrutinised in neighbouring countries and the EU as a whole, with the bloc is still reeling from Britain’s shock decision to leave.

“We have never seen so much interest from Spain or from the world in elections of a regional nature,” Narciso Michavila, head of the GAD3 polling firm, told the FAES think tank Friday.

– Surreal campaign –

In the polls Catalans will elect 135 lawmakers in the regional parliament, which has been dominated by pro-independence parties since 2015.

All eyes are on whether the three separatist parties will maintain their absolute majority, and if they do, whether they will make another bid to break from Spain after their first attempt failed.

The Catalan parliament voted to declare unilateral independence on October 27. But it was short-lived as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sacked the regional government, dissolved the assembly and called snap elections to try and nip separatism in the bud.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont promptly fled to Belgium knowing he would likely be charged for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, while his deputy Oriol Junqueras remained in Spain, only to be jailed pending an investigation into the same charges.

As such, their campaigning has been surreal.

At the head of a list called Together for Catalonia, Puigdemont has campaigned from afar, using video appearances and social media.

Some 45,000 supporters even travelled to Belgium to see him on December 7.

He claims the elections are the “second round” of an independence referendum held on October 1 despite a court ban, in which Catalan leaders said 90 percent voted to break from Spain, although only 43 percent turned out in a vote marred by police brutality.

Junqueras, meanwhile, is behind bars but remains the chief candidate for his Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party, which is favourite in many opinion polls.

The separatists’ campaign is centred on denouncing alleged rights violations and “repression” by the central government, but it is unclear what stance they will take if they win.

Some want to engineer another breakaway from Spain, while others say Catalonia isn’t ready and needs more time.

– Future of Europe ‘at stake’ –

For their part, the parties that back staying with Spain accuse the separatists of damaging Catalonia, one of the country’s economic powerhouses.

“The harm has been done and it was very big,” Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said last week, pointing to a drop in tourism.

Ines Arrimadas, the head of centre-right, anti-independence party Ciudadanos in Catalonia, has promised to bring Catalans back together by focusing on crucial issues such as unemployment, investment and tourism.

It is an argument that has drawn support from prominent European figures such as former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

Speaking at a campaign meeting Saturday alongside Arrimadas, he insisted “the future of Europe is at stake”.

“If Spain were to break up… then the future of Europe would collapse,” he said.

Opinion polls show ERC and Ciudadanos neck-and-neck as favourites to win the most seats.

Voters are highly mobilised, and a record turnout is expected.

But neither separatist nor pro-unity parties are predicted to get a decisive majority in parliament, which could lead to lengthy negotiations to form a regional government.

“Forming a government will be very complex, even if the pro-independence bloc wins the election,” said political analyst Pablo Simon.

Unlike elections in 2015 when they joined forces, ERC and Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party are running on separate tickets as rifts have emerged between them.

But opinion polls still suggest the most likely scenario is for a separatist coalition to remain in power in Catalonia, even if weakened.

And the elections could even lead to a surreal situation where an exiled or jailed Catalan leader is sworn in.


Catalonia’s Puigdemont To Stay In Belgium For Now

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

Deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said on Wednesday that he will stay in Belgium “for now” despite Spain dropping European arrest warrants against him and four former ministers.

Puigdemont accused Spain of backtracking on the warrants, which are on charges of sedition and rebellion over Catalonia’s illegal independence referendum, only because it was “scared of world opinion”.

He said that if his party wins elections in Catalonia on December 21 then “we should return” but did not give any further details of whether he would actually go back for the polls.

“When I arrived here, I did not come to Belgium, I came to Brussels the capital of Europe, where we could better defend our rights, and that will not change,” Puigdemont told a news conference in Brussels.

“Can we move around the EU without fear? For now we don’t have an answer, so for now we will stay here.”

In a surprise move on Monday, Spanish Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena withdrew a European arrest warrant as the five “appear to have shown their intention to return to Spain” to take part in the snap regional polls.

But Spain has said it will still arrest the separatists if they return.

Madrid had dropped the European warrants “because it is scared”, Puigdemont said.

“The Spanish state is scared of world opinion,” he added.


Catalan Leader Puigdemont Faces Belgian Extradition Hearing

Catalan regional government president Carles Puigdemont delivers a speech on the sidelines of a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the 77th anniversary of the death of Catalan leader Lluis Companys at the Montjuic Cemetery in Barcelona on October 15, 2017. Companys had proclaimed a “Catalan state in the Spanish federal republic” in 1934 to oppose the conservatives who governed in Madrid. Exiled in France, Companys was denounced by the Nazis in 1940 and handed over to Spain where he was executed.

Axed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont arrived Monday for an extradition hearing in Belgium as Spain seeks to have him sent back to face sedition charges over his region’s independence drive.

A judge sitting behind closed doors in Brussels will hear from lawyers for Puigdemont and four of his former ministers, who all fled to Belgium in October despite a summons to appear in court in Spain, claiming they would not get a fair trial.

Prosecutors last month asked the judge to approve the European arrest warrant issued by Madrid for the five in the opening round of what could become a protracted courtroom battle.

A police source said Puigdemont and the others had arrived for the hearing, which comes on the eve of the official start of campaigning for December 21 elections in Catalonia.

Madrid wants the polls to “restore normality” to the wealthy northeastern region, which declared independence unilaterally following a hotly disputed October 1 referendum.

Puigdemont’s lawyer said at the weekend he will remain in Belgium until after the elections.

“No matter what, they will be (in Brussels) till at least December 21 and according to my calculations this could go on till mid-January,” lawyer Jaume Alonso Cuevillas told Catalan radio Rac1, referring to Puigdemont and the four former ministers.

“I am convinced that no matter what happens they will have recourse to an appeal,” the lawyer said.

– Legal tangle? –

Spanish prosecutors want to prosecute Puigdemont and his former ministers for rebellion — which carries a maximum 30-year jail sentence — and sedition for their role in the independence drive, as well as for misusing public funds.

Meanwhile a Spanish Supreme Court judge is set to decide whether or not to free 10 other separatist leaders who were jailed pending a probe into their role in the Catalan independence drive.

Any release on bail would mark a turn in the election campaign, particularly for separatist parties who have repeatedly accused Madrid of taking “political prisoners” and “repression” after their attempt to declare unilateral independence fell flat.

Puigdemont and his cadres say the charges against them are politically motivated and as both sides are likely to appeal if the judge rules against them in the extradition hearing, the case could drag on for months, according to the Belgian justice minister.

Christophe Marchand, lawyer for two of Puigdemont’s ex-ministers, told AFP that “the facts as written in the arrest warrant are not punishable under Belgian law”, saying the case was an attempt to punish a “political process that passed off peacefully”.

After Monday’s hearing the court is expected to make its ruling in eight to 10 days, according to the Brussels prosecutor’s office.

A spokesman for Puigdemont said Friday he would “respect the schedule” of the Belgian legal process.


Polls Must ‘Ratify’ Catalonia’s Desire For Independence, Says Puigdemont

Catalonia’s deposed leader Carles Puigdemont Saturday launched his campaign for regional elections from Belgium by calling on Catalans to make known their desire for independence.

“We Catalans demonstrated to the world that we have the capacity and the will to become an independent state. And on (December) 21, we must ratify this,” he said in Oostkamp in Belgium, where he fled to after the Catalan parliament declared unilateral independence.

Puigdemont was sacked as Catalan president after that declaration on October 27 as was his entire regional government, and Madrid imposed direct rule on the once semi-autonomous region to stop the independence drive.

At the time, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also dissolved the Catalan parliament and called regional elections for December 21 in a bid to “restore normality” to the region.

The crisis began in earnest on October 1 when separatist leaders held an independence referendum despite a court ban, in which they said 90 percent opted to break from Spain even if less than half of eligible voters turned out in the deeply divided region.

Puigdemont, who is awaiting possible extradition to Spain, is running at the head of the Junts per Catalunya (“All for Catalonia” in Catalan) grouping.

It is unclear whether he will still be in Belgium when the elections take place.

But if Belgium decides to extradite him to Spain where he is wanted on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, he faces jail pending the probe.