The questioning of ousted former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and several members of his sacked government was starting in a Madrid court on Thursday, with Puigdemont still in Brussels and at risk of an extradition request if he fails to appear.
Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer, Paul Bekaert, said on Wednesday that his client would not return to Spain, and had proposed that Puigdemont instead be questioned in Belgium.
Puigdemont and his government were sacked on Friday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hours after passing a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain through the regional parliament, a vote boycotted by the opposition and considered illegal by Spanish courts.
On Monday, Spain’s state prosecutor accused Puigdemont of rebellion and sedition for organising an independence referendum held on Oct. 1 in defiance of the Madrid government.
Puigdemont travelled to Belgium at the weekend with other members of the dismissed Catalan administration and hired a lawyer. Although he appeared at a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday, his plans and next movements were unclear.
The Spanish National Court on Tuesday issued a subpoena for Puigdemont and several of his former deputies to appear in court, and while two of his former cabinet ministers, Joaquim Forn and Dolors Bassa, flew back to Barcelona that evening, Puigdemont stayed in Brussels.
If Puigdemont does not appear in court to testify, “there will likely be an extradition request to Belgium and the Belgian police will detain him,” said Esteban Gonzalez Pons, a member of European Parliament from the governing People’s Party (PP), on Spanish radio.
Spain’s High Court has summoned Puigdemont and 13 other former members of the Catalan government to testify in Madrid on Thursday and Friday on charges of rebellion, sedition and breach of trust. A judge will then decide whether those called to testify should go to jail pending an investigation that could take up to several years and a potential trial.
Three former Catalan government advisors returned to Spain from Belgium late on Tuesday and were greeted at Barcelona’s international airport by crowds chanting “off to prison”.
Prosecutors have asked the courts to order the Catalan secessionist leaders to deposit 6.2 million euros to cover potential liabilities. However, if Puigdemont and his associates do not turn up this could change and, if considered a flight risk, they could be jailed pending trial.
Attention in the crisis over Catalonia is now turning to the December election, called by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy when Madrid took over control of the autonomous region.