Supreme Court orders pre-trial detention for Catalan separatist leaders, reactivates international arrest warrants

Jordi Turull, the newest candidate to the premiership, among them. Decision comes shortly after Catalan Republican Left official skipped her court date and fled to Switzerland

Josep Rull (l) and Jordi Turull outside the Supreme Court.
Josep Rull (l) and Jordi Turull outside the Supreme Court.EL PAÍS

The Spanish Supreme Court has ordered pre-trial custody for five leaders of the failed independence bid in Catalonia, including the latest candidate to head the regional government, Jordi Turull.

The other four are former parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, and former government officials Raül Romeva, Josep Rull and Dolors Bassa.

“I have been jailed for remaining loyal to the mandate of those who elected me as the representative of the people of Catalonia, the president, the government and the parliament,” tweeted Turull after the decision was made public. “Please, let us devote all our energies to a peaceful defense of democracy and dignity for Catalonia. I have full trust in and hope for the people of Catalonia.”

The decision comes shortly after Marta Rovira, one of several Catalan secessionist leaders who were scheduled to appear before the Spanish Supreme Court on Friday to hear formal charges against them, skipped her court date and fled the country.

This latest move means that Turull will no longer be able to attend the second session of the investiture debate, due to be held on Saturday, when a simple majority of votes would have made him the next Catalan premier. On Thursday, Turull failed to secure an absolute majority to get appointed in the first round after the small anti-capitalist CUP party abstained, on the basis that they want a premier who backs an independent republic rather than pushing for greater autonomy for Catalonia.

New probe for Turull

Jesús García

Jordi Turull, the candidate who unsuccessfully bid for the premiership on Thursday, is now also being investigated for alleged asset stripping, the Catalan Attorney’s Office said. Prosecutors found that in June 2017, four months before the independence referendum of October 1, Turull “divested himself of a significant portion of his assets, and placed them in his wife’s name.” These assets include the family home and bank account, said sources familiar with the investigation. Turull’s wife Maria Blanca Bragulat is also under investigation.

If no new leader is found within the next two months, Catalans will have to go to the polls again.

Also on Friday, Judge Llarena reactivated international arrest warrants against six of the Catalan fugitives from justice, including ousted premier Carles Puigdemont and four former regional ministers, Toni Comín, Meritxell Serret and Lluís Puig, all of whom are in Belgium, as well as Clara Ponsatí, who is in Scotland.

He also issued a warrant for Marta Rovira. The secretary general of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), one of the main separatist parties inside the regional parliament, is now in Switzerland according to sources familiar with the situation. Another separatist leader, Anna Gabriel of the anti-establishment CUP, fled to Geneva earlier this year. The judge did not issue an arrest warrant for her on Friday.

In a public letter, Rovira said that she was embarking on “a tough road that, unfortunately, so many others before me have had to take, the road of exile.”

“I feel sadness, but it’s been a lot sadder to live in silence all this time. These last few weeks I have felt like I was inside an internal prison,” she added.

Rovira, who is considered by the Civil Guard to have been part of the “strategic committee” behind the failed independence bid last year, was the only one of the individuals under investigation who was out on bail while retaining her passport. The judge had previously ruled that her personal situation, among other factors, meant that she was not a flight risk.

Marta Rovira.

The central government in Madrid said that Rovira has “done a disservice to those who had to appear before the judge today,” in the words of spokesman Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, who added that she “has fled to shirk her responsibility.”

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy addressed the subject at a press conference following the European Council meeting in Brussels.

“We live in a society where, when justice summons us, we must show up,” said Rajoy, of the conservative Popular Party (PP). “To the people who voted for those [separatist] parties, I would say that everyone, no matter what they are defending, has the obligation to comply with the law.”

“We all want things to go back to normal institutionally, politically, economically. It is up to Catalan parties to offer governing solutions,” said Rajoy.

Charged with rebellion

Supreme Court Justice Pablo Llarena on Friday formally charged 13 individuals with rebellion, including ousted leader Carles Puigdemont, who is living in self-imposed exile in Belgium; seven former regional ministers, former parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, two grassroots activists who headed pro-independence organizations, and Marta Rovira.

The judge considered that probable cause exists for the crime of rebellion because all 13 charged individuals had the “will” to incorporate the “use of force” in order to achieve secession, and used the “power of the masses.” In his writ, he mentioned a gathering of around 60,000 people outside the department of economic affairs on September 20, the day that police were conducting a search inside. Civil Guard patrol cars were vandalized and officials had to leave the premises through the rooftop.

Everyone, no matter what they are defending, has the obligation to comply with the law. PM Mariano Rajoy

The judge considers that separatist parties and pro-independence groups colluded to carry out a predetermined plan to declare Catalan independence outside the law. In his writ, Llarena also finds that this strategy has not been abandoned with the application of central rule by Madrid. Rather, as documents seized from secessionist leaders showed, “secession would be achieved by returning to a state of permanent disobedience of the constitutional and legal framework. and keeping up a citizen mobilization that would end up forcing the State to recognize the new republic.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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