Ousted Catalan leader not expected to appear for questioning

The Belgian lawyer for Carles Puigdemont said Wednesday he does not expect the ousted Catalan leader to return to Spain in the coming weeks, and certainly not for questioning by a Spanish national court judge on Thursday.

Lawyer Paul Bekaert told VTM network when questioned about the court appearance that “he is not going to Madrid.”

“As things look now, I cannot see him going back in the next few weeks,” he said.

Puigdemont appeared at a news conference in Brussels Tuesday. A Catalan regional parliament vote in favor of independence last Friday led the Spanish government to trigger unprecedented constitutional measures to take control of Catalan affairs, firing the Catalan regional leadership.

In his appearance Tuesday, Puigdemont said he and the five ousted regional Catalan government colleagues who accompanied him there were seeking “freedom and safety” from Spanish authorities.

All 14 members of the sacked Catalan Cabinet are facing possible rebellion charges at home for driving a secessionist bid to a full declaration of independence. Spain’s chief prosecutor is seeking charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against Puigdemont and his No. 2, Oriol Junqueras. The crimes are punishable with decades behind bars under Spanish law.

A judge has ordered them to appear for questioning on Thursday in Madrid. The investigating magistrate could order their arrest as early as Friday, regardless of whether they show up in court. Two of the officials returned to Barcelona from Belgium late Tuesday.

In an interview posted on VTM network Wednesday, Bekaert said that if Spain seeks Puigdemont’s extradition it would be up to Belgian judges, not the government, to make a decision.

In Spain, European parliament deputy and spokesman for the country’s ruling Popular Party Esteban Gonzalez Pons said that if Puigdemont fails to appear before the court Thursday, “there’ll probably be an extradition petition to Belgium and Belgian police will detain him.”

Speaking late Tuesday on Spain’s Onda Cero radio said he believed Puigdemont’s lawyer in Belgium would likely be able to prolong the case until after the Catalan elections called by Spain for Dec. 21.

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