Ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont hands himself into police

OUSTED Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four former regional ministers have been taken into custody to start the process of their possible extradition to Spain.

Carles Puigdemont and four former advisers turned themselves in to Belgian authorities. Picture: AFP/Getty

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Arrest warrant issued for ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont

The five presented themselves to federal police in Brussels about 8am yesterday.

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Brussels prosecutor’s office spokesman Gilles Dejemeppe said that they had not been arrested.

A Belgian judge will have to decide within 24 hours what comes next for the five separatist politicians wanted in Spain on suspicion of rebellion for pushing through a declaration of independence for the north-eastern Catalonia in violation of Spain’s constitution.

Mr Dejemeppe said the judge’s options ranged from “refusal to execute the European arrest [warrant], arresting the people involved, releasing them on conditions or under bail”. He said if they were arrested then they will be sent to jail while the extradition process continues.

Mr Dejemeppe said the entire process from arrest to extradition could take more than 60 days.

That delay could give Mr Puigdemont time to participate, albeit from afar and in largely a symbolic capacity, in the snap regional election called by Spain’s government for Catalonia on 21 December.

The international community has been urged to keep a close eye on Spain to make sure that Mr Puigdemont gets fair legal treatment in Madrid.

Belgian vice-premier and interior minister Jan Jambon said: “I am just questioning how an EU member state can go this far and I am asking myself where Europe is to have an opinion on this.”

The Belgian government has been one of the most critical voices about Spain’s treatment of the Catalan crisis and condemned the violence from the central authorities that accompanied the Catalan referendum on 1 October.

Parties have until tomorrow to register as coalitions or they must run separately.

A senior official of Mr Puigdemont’s Democratic Party of Catalonia said they wanted their leader to repeat as its candidate. Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo has said that any politician can run in the election unless he or she has been convicted of a crime.

Mr Puigdemont fled to Belgium in the past week after being removed from power by Spanish authorities as part of an extraordinary crackdown to quash the region’s illegal secession claim.

A Spanish National Court judge issued warrants for the five absconded lawmakers on suspicion of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement.

Mr Puigdemont wrote in Dutch in his Twitter account on Saturday that he was “prepared to fully co-operate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain”.