Former Catalan leader faces arrest in Finland

World Saturday 24/March/2018 18:23 PM
By: Times News Service
Former Catalan leader faces arrest in Finland

Helsinki/Barcelona: Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont faces arrest in Finland after authorities there received an international warrant for his detention issued by Spain, the latest legal action against separatist politicians from the wealthy northeastern region.
If he returns to Spain, Puigdemont faces up to 25 years in prison on charges of rebellion and sedition for his part in organising an illegal referendum on secession last year.
When police reach Puigdemont, a normal extradition process will begin, though they currently have no knowledge of his whereabouts, Finnish authorities said in a statement on Saturday.
In an interview with Spanish radio station Catalunya Radio earlier, Puigdemont’s lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, had said his client was prepared to present himself to Finnish police. Puigdemont went into self-imposed exile in Belgium last year, shortly after the Catalan parliament made a symbolic declaration of independence from Spain. He arrived in Finland on Thursday to meet lawmakers and attend a conference.
Twenty-five Catalan leaders will be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday, in a sharp escalation of legal action against separatists in the northeastern region.
One of the leaders facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted, Marta Rovira, earlier said she had already fled Spain, joining five others in exile. On Friday evening, Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena ordered an international arrest warrant for all six.
The ruling raised the stakes in Madrid’s efforts to contain separatists in Catalonia, where a banned referendum backed independence last year.
The case will be closely watched by separatist groups across Europe and beyond. Rights groups have already criticised the extent of Madrid’s crackdown - though the European Union, wary of any splintering of its member states, has firmly supported the Spanish government’s response.
Catalonia has been in political limbo since Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took over its regional government after it unilaterally declared independence following the October plebiscite.
Llarena said on Friday 13 leaders, including Rovira and former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, will be tried for rebellion.
Another 12 will be tried for embezzlement or disobeying the state through their role in holding the referendum or declaring independence.
Puigdemont and fellow separatists have all denied any wrongdoing, saying the plebiscite gave them the authority to break away from Spain.
The vote was boycotted by Catalans opposed to the region splitting from Spain. Public support for the independence of Catalonia, which has its own language, extensive devolved powers and an economy as large as Portugal’s, fluctuates either side of 40 per cent in polls.
Judge Llarena ordered jail for five of the leaders pending their trial as he considered there was enough evidence that they committed a crime. He did not set a date for the trial.
The five appeared before the court on Friday to be notified they would face trial and were detained immediately.
Among them was Jordi Turull, a close ally of Puigdemont who was put forward on Thursday to become the next regional president, although he failed to obtain enough votes after a small far-left secessionist group broke ranks and abstained.
The court's decision means a second leadership vote for Turull which was due to take place on Saturday will not happen because his presence is compulsory.
However, late on Friday, Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent said he would go ahead with the session and read a statement in support of those jailed earlier in the day.
Rovira, the head of the separatist Esquerra Republicana party, said before the judge’s announcement on Friday she had fled to avoid prosecution.
"Exile will be a difficult road, but it is the only way I have to recover my political voice,” Rovira said in a letter. "Long live a catalan Republic for all!"
The court, in a written ruling, requested that 14 members of the previous catalan regional administration deposit 2.1 million euros ($2.59 million) in a bank account to pay back the money used to hold the referendum and cover judicial costs.
Several separatist leaders, including former catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, have been in custody since last year.
Of those, five were sent on Friday to pre-trial jail, among them Jordi Turull, a close ally of Puigdemont who was due to be put forward for a second vote on Saturday to become the next regional president.
With Turull in jail and unable to attend the session for which his presence is a requirement, Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent cancelled the vote on Saturday, holding in its place a debate that at several points became heated and saw members of one opposition party abandon the chamber in protest.
Speaking after the debate, accompanied by various other heads of parties and in front of a crowd of supporters, Torrent described Madrid’s legal action as an "attack on the heart of democracy.” "Locking up people for their political ideas and pursuing those that refuse to renounce them is to put an end to the freedom of political thought,” Torrent said, calling on Catalan politicians to form a broad coalition in opposition to Madrid’s actions.