Ousted Catalan Leader Won’t Go to Madrid on Thursday, Lawyer Says

By SYLVAIN PLAZY

Sacked Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont looks on after an Oct. 31, 2017, press conference in Brussels. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

TIELTS, Belgium (AP) — Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont will not return to Spain for questioning Thursday by a national court judge in Madrid, his Belgian lawyer said, suggesting that his client could be questioned in Belgium instead.

Puigdemont flew to Brussels after the Spanish government triggered unprecedented constitutional measures to take control of Catalan affairs following a vote Friday by Catalan regional lawmakers to secede from Spain. He has been summoned for questioning in Madrid.

All 14 members of the sacked Catalan Cabinet are facing possible rebellion charges for driving a secessionist bid to a full declaration of independence. Spain’s chief prosecutor is seeking charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against Puigdemont and his No. 2, Oriol Junqueras, who are among the 14. The crimes are punishable with decades behind bars.

“He is not going to Madrid and I suggested that they question him here in Belgium,” lawyer Paul Bekaert told The Associated Press in the Belgian town of Tielt, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Brussels.

“It is possible, but I don’t know yet if it happens, but it is possible. I have already had cases like that in the past, when suspects could be questioned in Belgium,” Bekaert said.

He said there was no arrest warrant for Puigdemont at this stage and that his client is “fine and he is self-confident.”

There was no immediate reaction from the National Court in Madrid to the suggestion Wednesday, which is a bank holiday in Spain.

Puigdemont appeared at a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday, saying he and the five ousted regional Catalan government colleagues who accompanied him there were seeking “freedom and safety” from Spanish authorities.

The Spanish investigating magistrate could order their arrest as early as Friday, regardless of whether they show up in court for questioning. Two of the six officials returned to Barcelona from Belgium late Tuesday.

Bekaert told the Belgian VTM network that “as things look now, I cannot see him going back in the next few weeks.”

The lawyer said that if Spain seeks Puigdemont’s extradition it would be up to Belgian judges, not the government, to make a decision on that.

In Spain, European parliament deputy and spokesman for the country’s ruling Popular Party Esteban Gonzalez Pons said if Puigdemont fails to appear Thursday before the court, “there’ll probably be an extradition petition to Belgium and Belgian police will detain him.”

Pons told the Onda Cero radio that Puigdemont’s lawyer in Belgium would likely be able to prolong the case until after the new Catalan election called by Spain for Dec. 21.

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Elena Becatoros in Barcelona, Spain, Ciaran Giles in Madrid and Raf Casert in Belgium contributed to this report.

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