A Spanish judge has issued an international arrest warrant for ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont and former members of the Catalan Cabinet.
The National Court judge yesterday filed the request with the Belgian prosecutor to detain Mr Puigdemont and his four aides, who were last seen in Brussels. Separate international search and arrest warrants were issued to alert Interpol in case they flee Belgium.
Mr Puigdemont declared that he was prepared to run for his old job even while battling extradition in Belgium. His Belgian lawyer said his client would fight extradition to Spain without seeking political asylum.
The five are being sought for five different crimes, including rebellion, sedition and embezzlement in a Spanish investigation into their roles in pushing for secession for Catalonia.
The officials flew to Brussels after Spanish authorities removed Mr Puigdemont and his Cabinet from office on Saturday for declaring independence for Catalonia. The Spanish government has also called an early regional election for December 21.
Mr Puigdemont told Belgium’s state broadcaster that he was in the country “ready to be a candidate” in the early polls and because he had lost faith in the Spanish justice system.
“We can run a campaign anywhere because we’re in a globalized world,” he told RTBF, adding that he was not in Belgium to “Belgianise Catalan politics.”
He stressed that he “did not flee, but it’s impossible to properly prepare” a legal defence while in Spain.
If Belgium acts on the international warrant issued by Spain and arrests him, Mr Puigdemont would have to be brought before an investigating judge within 24 hours. His extradition procedure would take 15 days. Should Mr Puigdemont appeal, that process could take a further 45 days, meaning that he would probably not leave Belgium before early January in a timeline that would be well after the elections.
Judge Carmen Lamela accused Mr Puigdemont of “leading the mobilisation of the pro-independence sectors of the population to act in support of the illegal referendum and thus the secession process outside the legal channels to reform the constitution”.
Spain says the only legal way to achieve secession is by reforming the country’s 1978 Constitution with an ample majority in the national parliament, not by regional votes.
Ms Lamela had earlier jailed eight of nine Catalan ex-officials who appeared for questioning, including former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras, without bail.
The ninth – ex-regional minister for business Santi Vila – posted bail of €50,000 (£44,412) yesterday after spending a night in a prison and the judge ordered his release from custody.
His passport was confiscated.
Mr Vila needs to show up in court regularly as the rebellion, sedition and embezzlement probe continues.
“I ask for all political parties across to Spain, appealing to their democratic values, to put an end this terrible situation that has put politicians in prison,” Mr Vila said as he left the Estremera prison near Madrid.
A panel of National Court judges has separately rejected an appeal to release two separatist activists who were jailed last month in a separate sedition investigation.
A National Court spokesman said that Assemblea Nacional Catalana president Jordi Sanchez and Omnium Cultural leader Jordi Cuixart will remain in a Madrid jail while the investigation continues.
Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Omnium Cultural have spearheaded the civil society efforts to achieve secession for the north-eastern region.