Catalan leader flees to Belgium after Spanish prosecutor calls for rebellion charges against him
Catalonia’s dismissed separatist leader Carles Puigdemont was in Brussels on Monday, a Spanish government source said, as prosecutors called for him to be charged with rebellion over his drive for Catalan independence.
The news came as Madrid took political control of Catalonia after declaring that Puigdemont and his separatist regional administration were dismissed on Friday, following the Catalan parliament’s independence declaration.
On Sunday Belgium’s immigration minister suggested Puigdemont could receive asylum in Belgium on the grounds that he might not get a fair trial in Spain.
On Monday the Spanish government source Puigdemont “is in Brussels”.
Early in the day Puigdemont posted a picture on Instagram of the inside of the government palace, though it was not clear when the picture had been taken.
Catalan daily La Vanguardia reported that he was accompanied by others from his former administration.
Puigdemont, 54, said the result of an outlawed independence referendum on October 1 gave the region a mandate to declare independence.
Madrid and the Spanish courts said the referendum was illegal and that a unilateral independence declaration would violate the constitution.
Belgian immigration minister Theo Francken, a member of the Flemish separatist N-VA party, said on Sunday it was “not unrealistic” that Belgium could offer protection to Puigdemont.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said an asylum request from Puigdemont was “absolutely not on the agenda”.
The European Union has backed the Spanish government in the Catalan independence dispute.
The news of Puigdemont fleeing the country came just hours after Spain’s attorney general asked for charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds to be brought against him and other members of the deposed Catalan cabinet for their role in trying to create an independent state.
Jose Manuel Maza announced that he would ask the national court to bring the charges against senior members of Puigdemont’s former administration. The Supreme Court would oversee possible action against the Catalan parliamentary authorities.
Maza said the charges were being sought “because their actions over the past two years have produced an institutional crisis that culminated with the unilateral declaration of independence made with total contempt for our constitution on 27 October”.
Under Spain’s legal system, his request will now go before the relevant judges for consideration. The independence leaders could be called to testify if charges are brought.
The crime of rebellion carries a maximum sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment, while sedition carries a 15-year penalty. Misuse of public funds is punishable with a six-year jail term.
On Sunday, the Spanish government said Puigdemont could be jailed within the next two months over his part in the regional parliament’s unilateral declaration of independence.
Also on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona to call for Spanish unity, two days after some Catalan MPs voted to declare independence and the Spanish government assumed control of the region.
Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has sacked Puigdemont and his government and called regional elections for 21 December.
The remaining members of Puigdemont’s Catalan Democratic Party, or PdeCat, vowed to run in the election, a spokeswoman said on Monday.
“We will go to the polls on [December] 21. We will go with conviction and with a commitment to letting the Catalan people express themselves,” Marta Pascal told reporters.
Additional reporting by The Guardian