Spain high court drops warrants for Puigdemont, 4 ex-Catalan leaders

By Sara Shayanian  |  Dec. 5, 2017 at 9:27 AM
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Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Spain's Supreme Court on Tuesday withdrew international arrest warrants for former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and four ex-cabinet members.

The move comes a day after the five former Catalonia leaders appeared in court in Belgium -- the country to which they fled to avoid arrest for charges of sedition, misuse of government funds and rebellion stemming from Catalonia's big for independence from Madrid.

Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena announced the unexpected change of course for Puigdemont, Antonio Comín, Lluís Puig, Meritxell Serret and Clara Ponsatí and ordered the decision to be communicated to Belgian authorities.

Although the European Union and international arrest warrants have been withdrawn, the Spanish arrest warrants still remain and the five ex-officials will be arrested when they return to Spain.

Because the Belgian penal code doesn't have an equivalent for a charge of 'rebellion', the Spanish court withdrew the international warrants to allow for legal action against Puigdemont, as rebellion is one of the most serious crimes attributed to him.

Llarena cited the ex-politicians' intention to return for elections to be held on Dec. 21.

"The individuals under investigation seem to have shown their intention to return to Spain, with the aim of taking possession and exercise elected roles for which elections have been called recently," Llarena wrote in court documents.

Tuesday's action leaves Puigdemont and the ex-officials with two options -- return to Spain and be arrested or remain in self-imposed exile.

"Now there is no reason for Puigdemont not to return to Spain, not to put himself in front of the people he wanted to liberate, because he declared independence and went running off," Esteban Gonzalez Pons, a spokesman for the ruling Popular Party in the European Parliament, said.

Catalonia's Oct. 1 referendum vote led to Madrid invoking Article 155 of Spain's constitution to take over control of the Catalan government and elect new leaders.

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