State pros­e­cu­tor seek­ing charges of re­bel­lion, sedi­tion and em­bez­zle­ment

The Irish Times - - Front Page - Guy Hedge­coe in Barcelona

The de­posed pres­i­dent of Cat­alo­nia, Car­les Puigde­mont, fled to Bel­gium yes­ter­day:

The de­posed pres­i­dent of Cat­alo­nia, Car­les Puigde­mont, trav­elled to Bel­gium yes­ter­day as the Span­ish ju­di­ciary an­nounced that it was bring­ing le­gal ac­tion against him and sev­eral of his col­leagues for at­tempt­ing to lead their re­gion to in­de­pen­dence.

Given the tim­ing of the trip and the se­ri­ous­ness of the charges against Mr Puigde­mont, which could lead to a lengthy jail term, there is spec­u­la­tion that he plans to re­quest asy­lum.

Yes­ter­day was the first full work­ing day since the se­nate ap­proved the Span­ish gov­ern­ment’s use of ar­ti­cle 155 of the con­sti­tu­tion, al­low­ing it to in­tro­duce di­rect rule in Cat­alo­nia, fol­low­ing a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence is­sued by the re­gion’s par­lia­ment on Fri­day.

Un­der the di­rect rule plan, prime min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy had re­moved from of­fice Mr Puigde­mont and his en­tire cabi­net, putting their port­fo­lios un­der the con­trol of min­istries in Madrid.

There were sug­ges­tions Mr Puigde­mont would defy the Span­ish gov­ern­ment de­cree and at­tempt to re­turn to his of­fice in cen­tral Barcelona yes­ter­day. How­ever, he did not and nor did he at­tend a mid-morn­ing meet­ing of his Cata­lan Demo­cratic Party (PDeCAT).

Flem­ish na­tion­al­ists

In­stead, by early af­ter­noon, re­ports were emerg­ing that Mr Puigde­mont had trav­elled to Brus­sels and was meet­ing with Flem­ish na­tion­al­ists.

Span­ish tele­vi­sion sta­tion La Sexta and news­pa­per El Per­iódico both re­ported that he had trav­elled with five for­mer mem­bers of his gov­ern­ment – Joaquim Forn, Mer­itx­ell Bor­ràs, Toni Comín, Dolors Bassa and Mer­itx­ell Ser­ret – all of who also face le­gal ac­tion. They drove from Cat­alo­nia to Mar­seille, where they took a flight to Brus­sels, the me­dia re­ported.

Paul Beck­aert, a lawyer who has been in­volved in pre­vi­ous asy­lum cases be­tween Spain and Bel­gium, told Span­ish me­dia that he is rep­re­sent­ing Mr Puigde­mont.

Mean­while, Lluís Llach, of the Junts pel Sí pro-in­de­pen­dence coali­tion which had gov­erned Cat­alo­nia prior to di­rect rule, de­scribed Mr Puigde­mont as “ex­iled” in a Twit­ter post. The Ir­ish Times asked a se­nior mem­ber of the Cata­lan Repub­li­can Left (ERC), which is part of the same coali­tion, if the two mem­bers of that party who had trav­elled with Mr Puigde­mont – Ms Bassa and Ms Ser­ret – were go­ing to ask for asy­lum. “Could hap­pen,” the ERC politi­cian said. “We’ll see.”

On Sun­day, a Bel­gian ju­nior min­is­ter, Theo Francken, had said any asy­lum re­quest by Mr Puigde­mont in his coun­try would be re­viewed. How­ever, Bel­gian prime min­is­ter Charles Michel then said no such pro­posal was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

Shortly be­fore the news emerged of Mr Puigde­mont’s trip, the at­tor­ney gen­eral José Manuel Maza an­nounced he was bring­ing charges of sedi­tion, re­bel­lion and mis­use of pub­lic funds against the for­mer Cata­lan leader and se­nior mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion. The charges stem from Fri­day’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, as well as the or­gan­i­sa­tion of an out­lawed ref­er­en­dum on se­ces­sion held on Oc­to­ber 1st.

The only for­mer mem­ber of Mr Puigde­mont’s gov­ern­ment who de­fied Madrid’s in­struc­tions by re­turn­ing to his of­fice yes­ter­day was Josep Rull, who had been head of Cat­alo­nia’s depart­ment of ter­ri­to­ries and sus­tain­abil­ity.

He posted a pic­ture of him­self in the depart­ment on Twit­ter, be­fore leav­ing later in the morn­ing.

In Sant Jaume square, where the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters is lo­cated, the mood was muted in the morn­ing as a hand­ful of pro-in­de­pen­dence sup­port­ers waited out­side the front en­trance. Be­fore news of Mr Puigde­mont’s jour­ney to Bel­gium emerged, Elisenda Car­rasco, who wore an in­de­pen­dence flag wrapped around her, said she ex­pected him to at­tempt to en­ter the build­ing.

She de­scribed her­self as “very afraid” about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of di­rect rule, but added: “Ar­ti­cle 155 isn’t go­ing to change how I think. We’ll act in a way that ex­erts pres­sure and cre­ates peace­ful op­po­si­tion.”

Ms Car­rasco said she does not know if she will vote in Cata­lan elec­tions which the Span­ish gov­ern­ment has called for De­cem­ber 21st un­der the aegis of ar­ti­cle 155.

‘‘ We’ll act in a way that ex­erts pres­sure and cre­ates peace­ful op­po­si­tion

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