Catalan Leader Puigdemont Surrenders to Belgian Police

(Bloomberg) -- Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who faced an international arrest warrant for his role in an ill-fated declaration of independence, turned himself in voluntarily to Belgian police on Sunday.

Puigdemont and four former ministers of the Catalan regional government surrendered at 9:17 a.m. in Brussels. The investigative judge now has exactly 24 hours to make a decision on whether to keep them in detention or conditionally release them, Gilles Dejemeppe, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor office, told reporters.

Catalan Leader Puigdemont Surrenders to Belgian Police

“Puigdemont and his ministers were detained,” Dejemeppe said. “In the presence of their lawyers, they have been officially informed about the arrest warrants against them.”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked constitutional powers last month to reassert his authority over Catalonia and fire Puigdemont and his government. Since then, eight politicians and two activists have been jailed pending trial, and arrest warrants have been issued for five others, including Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to try to run a government in exile.

Activists in Barcelona were left rudderless and divided when Puigdemont bolted following his ejection from power. Rajoy called elections for Dec. 21.

But the spectacle of the jailed leaders has also reinvigorated the movement and thrust the constitutional crisis into the international spotlight. A judge ordered jail for eight ousted members of the Catalan government on Nov. 2.

An opinion poll published on Saturday by La Vanguardia newspaper shows the December election is too close to call.

The survey by pollster GAD3 showed the secessionist group including ERC and PDeCAT that won a majority in 2015 with the backing of the radical party CUP cannot rely on winning.

The same platform with CUP support would get 66 to 69 seats in new elections compared with the 68 needed for a majority and fewer than the 72 they won two years ago, according to the poll conducted Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.

Puigdemont said on Saturday that he will cooperate with Belgian authorities on the arrest order. Under European arrest-warrant procedures, individuals are detained and brought before judges within 24 hours. A court then has 15 days to decide whether to execute the arrest order, according to the Belgian Justice Ministry. Including time for possible appeals, a final decision must be taken within three months. Puigdemont would then have to be surrendered to Spain within 10 days.

“I won’t flee justice; I’m willing to submit to justice, but to real justice,” the ousted leader said in an interview with Belgium’s RTBF television on Friday. He said the Spanish courts “can’t guarantee a fair and independent sentence that will be free of the enormous weight and influence of politics.”

“You mustn’t forget that we’re the legitimate government,” Puigdemont said.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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