Ousted Catalan officials petition Supreme Court for release from jail

Ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras and aides pledge to abide by Article 155 of Constitution despite opposing it politically

Catalan ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras.
Catalan ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras.CARLES RIBAS

Former Catalan government officials being held in pre-trial detention have sent the Spanish Supreme Court a document requesting their release on the grounds that they respect the effects of an emergency constitutional provision that had them removed from office.

Ousted deputy premier Oriol Junqueras and seven other ex-regional ministers have been in jail since November 2

Ousted deputy premier Oriol Junqueras and seven other ex-regional ministers have been in custody since November 2 after appearing before a judge at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s High Court, to answer charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over the illegal independence drive.

Since then, the case has been taken over by the Supreme Court, which was already handling a similar case involving the speaker of the Catalan parliament. Unlike Junqueras and his aides, speaker Carme Forcadell was not placed in custody after she pledged to respect Article 155 of the Constitution at her court hearing.

Former Catalan officials at the High Court in Madrid.
Former Catalan officials at the High Court in Madrid.LUIS SEVILLANO

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked Article 155 for the first time in Spain’s modern democratic history after separatist deputies in the Catalan parliament voted in favor of a unilateral declaration of independence in late October.

Under these emergency powers, the entire Catalan government was removed and early elections called in the region for December 21. The premier, Carles Puigdemont, fled to Belgium to avoid action by the Spanish courts, which had summoned him to answer similar charges as other government officials. He has since begun campaigning for the December election with a new political platform called Junts per Catalunya.

Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid action by the Spanish courts

The High Court’s decision to send Junqueras and his aides to preventive prison stands in contrast with the Supreme Court’s different line of action with Forcadell, who was released after posting bail of €150,000. Four other members of the Catalan parliament speakers’ committee who faced similar charges were released and told to pay €25,000 within a week, while a fifth was released without bail.

Now, the jailed ex-officials are hoping to receive similar treatment from the Supreme Court, which has taken up their case as well.

In their petition for release, they inform Justice Pablo Llarena that they will abide by the effects of Article 155, even if they are not giving up on their political beliefs, which they will defend “using the channels of dialogue and negotiation.”

Junqueras and his aides will challenge Article 155 using the relevant legal channels

According to the document, the petitioners “consider that this article in no way allows for the cessation of the members of the [Catalan] government, or the appropriation of the roles of the presidency, or blocking the parliament’s activities, but they have decided to abide by its application and challenge it using the relevant legal channels.”

The defense notes that they “are not giving up on defending their political convictions through strictly peaceful and democratic channels, and will work toward the goal of reaching a deal that will put the decision about the political future of Catalonia in the hands of citizens.”

Economic impact

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is the latest agency to warn about the potential effects of the Catalan crisis on the economy. "The persistence of tensions in Catalonia could reduce consumer and business confidence, slowing domestic demand more than projected," the OECD says in an analysis about Spain published on Tuesday.

The conclusions are very similar to those reached previously by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Bank of Spain.

The OECD’s growth forecast for the Spanish economy in 2018 is 2.3%, the same as the Spanish government predicted in the forecast it sent to Brussels. Madrid has warned that the Catalan crisis could cost the economy three-tenths of a point, or around €3 billion.

“Political tensions in Catalonia have increased uncertainty,” reads the OECD report, which nevertheless states that growth in Spain “is projected to moderate but remain robust in 2018 and 2019.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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