Spain court suspends Carles Puigdemont’s return to power in Catalonia

Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium in October to avoid arrest for leading a secession bid and the government says he cannot be sworn in because he would be detained if he returns to Spain and could not rule in absentia

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 2:50pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 11:11pm

Spain’s constitutional court announced it was blocking Catalonia’s ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont from returning to power in the region while he remains the subject of legal action.

The court said that its 12 magistrates had decided unanimously “to preventively suspend the investiture of Puigdemont unless he appears in the (regional) parliament in person with prior judicial authorisation”.

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the Catalan parliament declared independence in October, was last week chosen as a candidate to lead Catalonia again, with the regional parliament set to vote for a new leader on Tuesday in Barcelona.

However, he faces arrest for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his attempt to break Catalonia away from Spain as soon as he returns to the country.

Puigdemont has said he could be sworn in to office remotely via videoconference from Brussels, a plan Spain’s central government opposes.

He has also said he would rather return to Spain, but without any risk of arrest.

The constitutional court warned all members of the Catalan parliament of “their responsibilities” and warned against disobeying the order to suspend any investiture.

The magistrates said they needed six more days to consider a government bid to annul the nomination of Puigdemont as a candidate for the regional presidency.

“The government must use every tool made available by the laws and the constitution to make sure that a fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately be sworn in,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Friday after the government lodged the legal bid to keep Puigdemont from returning to power.

After the court’s announcement, Puigdemont tweeted that “even the constitutional court has rejected the tricks of Moncloa,” referring to the prime minister’s official residence.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Twitter that “the government would continue to do its duty in respecting the law”.

Catalonia’s ousted separatist government pushed ahead with an independence referendum on October 1 despite it having been banned by the Constitutional Court.

It won the public vote but Catalonia’s independence declaration on October 27 was short-lived as Rajoy moved to stop the crisis in a region deeply divided over secession.

He imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region, sacked its government including Puigdemont, dissolved its parliament and called snap elections.

Additional reporting by Reuters