Catalonia’s ousted president and four former ministers turned themselves in to Belgian police. They sought refuge in Brussels, after declaring Catalonia’s independence from Spain.
Spain issued an international warrant for their arrest.
CGTN’s Mariam Zaidi is in Brussels with more.
Following Spain’s issuance of a European Arrest Warrant to Belgium on Friday for ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four former ministers, on Sunday morning at precisely 9:17am local time, they surrendered to federal police.
The Brussels Prosecutor swiftly appointed an investigative judge. The fate of the five now rests squarely in his hands. Every EU member state is obliged to uphold the automatic execution of a European arrest warrant.
But there are loopholes that could buy Puigdemont and his colleagues some time. “For a European arrest warrant to be issued, the offense has to be more or less the same in Belgian law and in Spanish law. Sedition and rebellion, there isn’t really the same thing in the Belgian penal code, but there is an offense for misuse of public funds. We’ll have to see exactly why they would choose this, but in this instance we have offenses that are equivalent,” explained Maxime Chome, a lawyer from Brussels Free University.
If the investigative judge decides to accept Spain’s request and arrest the ousted officials, Puigdemont and his colleagues could accept their fate and be quickly returned to Spanish authorities within 10 days. But it’s seen as likely they will challenge the warrant. Objections and appeals could delay action up to 60 days.
The longer Puigdemont can delay the charges against him, the greater chance he has of contesting regional elections back home on December 21st. On Tuesday when the five surfaced in Brussels, Puigdemont said he wasn’t in Belgium to claim asylum but could that now change Belgium is the only EU country where it is legally possible to examine an asylum claim by a national of another EU country. Puigdemont would then need to show that he is at risk of persecution from Spain.