Judge issues arrest warrant for ex-Catalan president

By Sara Shayanian and Danielle Haynes  |  Updated Nov. 3, 2017 at 5:01 PM
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Nov. 3 (UPI) -- A Spanish judge on Friday issued an arrest warrant for the former leader of Catalonia, Charles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium earlier this week.

State prosecutors requested the European arrest warrant for Puigdemont, who faces charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement. The former leader said the legal moves against Catalan government officials are a strike against democracy.

Puigdemont fled to Belgium early this week after Madrid's top prosecutor said criminal charges might be coming over the region's failed attempt to secede from Spain.

Friday, he criticized Madrid for what he called "attacks with runaway fury."

He also demanded the immediate release of his former ministers, calling their pre-trial custody a "most serious attack on democracy."

"Behind bars, my government is infinitely more free than their deluded jailers," Puigdemont said.

Authorities began exploring arrest warrants for Puigdemont and ex-Catalan ministers who failed to appear in court to face charges related to the region's bid for full independence, which was spurred by an Oct. 1 referendum.

An extradition request for Puigdemont could put Brussels -- which headquarters the European Union -- in an uncomfortable position. Although the 28-state alliance has remained silent on Catalan independence, Belgium allows for political asylum for EU members.

Puigdemont's lawyer said his client would fight extradition.

"I will not flee from justice. I will go towards justice, but real justice. I've told my lawyers to tell the Belgian justice system that I'm completely available to cooperate," he said.

"It's obvious it's politicized. The guarantees are not there for a fair, independent trial."

On Thursday, a judge ordered jail for eight former officials who did comply with orders to appear in court, a move to safeguard against flight from prosecution.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy removed Puigdemont and the others from power last week and set new elections for Dec. 21 to replace them -- powers granted by Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.

Puigdemont on Friday called the jailing of his officials before the elections, "a coup" against the December vote.

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