The Belgian justice system on Thursday officially ended judicial proceedings against ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont and four former members of his government who fled to the northern European country after the Catalan regional parliament voted through a unilateral declaration of independence on October 27.
The move by the Belgian authorities comes nine days after Spain’s Supreme Court withdrew an European arrest warrant for Puigdemont and his ministers originally issued by Spanish High Court judge on November 3.
The closing of judicial proceedings against Puigdemont means the Belgian government can breath a sigh of relief
The ousted Catalan politicians, facing charges including rebellion and sedition in Spain, were not required to be present for the procedure in Brussels which took a matter of just minutes.
The withdrawal of the European arrest warrant also means that Puigdemont and his former ministers are no longer required to remain in Belgium, to provide points of contact, or to present themselves to the authorities when required.
However, Puigdemont’s lawyer Paul Bekaert told EL PAÍS that while the former premier is no longer required to remain in Belgium, there is a risk that if he travels to another European country that is less favorable to his legal cause, the European arrest warrant could be reissued. “If Mr Puigdemont travels to another European country he could have problems. There won’t be the same legal certainty. Every country has different penal codes and jurisprudence,” Bekaert said.
The former Catalan minister and his ministers remain the subject of a Spanish arrest warrant and Spanish security forces have boosted controls on the French border in the case of the possible reappearance of Puigdemont in the run-up to regional elections in Catalonia on December 21. French cooperation on this matter appears to be guaranteed.
The closing of judicial proceedings against Puigdemont means the Belgian government can breath a sigh of relief. The arrival of members of the sacked Catalan government provoked an internal political crisis and caused diplomatic friction with Spain. The fact that a Belgian court does now not have to rule on the matter of the European arrest warrant means further confrontation will be avoided.
Puigdemont and his former ministers are no longer required to remain in Belgium
The Spanish Supreme Court’s recent decision to withdraw the arrest warrant came amid concerns that the involvement of the Belgian judicial system could hamper attempts by the Spanish courts to try Puigdemont and the four ministers for rebellion, the most serious crime for which they are being investigated, and one which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
The Spanish crime of rebellion does not have an exact equivalent in Belgium, a fact which could have seen Belgian authorities handing over the sacked politicians to Spanish authorities on charges such as misuse of public funds, but not on charges of rebellion. This in turn would have prevented the Spanish courts from trying Puigdemont and the former ministers for the crime.
Former Catalan deputy premier Oriol Junqueras and sacked interior minister Joaquim Forn remain in pre-trial custody in the Madrid region.
English version by George Mills.