MADRID (AFP) – Catalonia’s sacked separatist leader yesterday looked to have thrown down the gauntlet in his tussle with the Spanish government, as his Belgian lawyer suggested he would ignore a Madrid court summons.
Carles Puigdemont, in Brussels since at least Monday, and 13 other members of his dismissed Catalan cabinet were told late Tuesday to be at Spain’s top criminal court today and tomorrow.
They are due to be questioned in an investigation over Catalonia’s independence drive, which has plunged Spain into its biggest crisis in decades.
On Monday, Spain’s chief prosecutor said he was seeking charges of rebellion – punishable by up to 30 years behind bars – sedition and misuse of public funds.
The hearing by the National Court, which deals with major criminal cases, could see the 14 formally charged. But Paul Bekaert, a Belgian lawyer hired by Mr Puigdemont, said late on Tuesday his new client would not return to Spain as there is a “good chance that he would be detained”.
Asked on Dutch public broadcaster NOS if Mr Puigdemont would go back, Mr Bekaert said “as far as he told me, that’s not going to happen”. “I don’t forsee him going back to Spain within the coming weeks,” Mr Bekaert told Flemish-language Belgian TV channel VTM.
Two of the several associates of Mr Puigdemont who travelled with him to Brussels did return to the Barcelona late on Tuesday.
If Mr Puigdemont, 54, and the others fail to appear before the court, Spanish prosecutors could order their arrest. An international warrant could follow if they are abroad.
Mr Puigdemont told a Tuesday news conference in Brussels – before the summons was announced – he would not return until he had guarantees legal proceedings would be impartial. He insisted his cabinet remained “legitimate” despite having been dismissed by Madrid and said he was in Brussels “for safety purposes and freedom”.