Judge denies bail for ex-Catalan ministers and sends them to jail

Media outside court as ex-Catalan vice president, Oriol Junqueras (r), arrives on Thursday.
Media outside court as ex-Catalan vice president, Oriol Junqueras (r), arrives on Thursday. / EFE
  • Carles Pugidemont, former president, and four 'consellers' are still in Belgium as an international arrest warrant is called for

Prosecutors called in court on Thursday for former senior members of the Catalan regional government to be denied bail and held in jail and the judge in charge agreed.

Judge Carmen Lamela said that there was a high risk of another crime being committed and evidence being destroyed while investigations continue into their role in last week's unilateral declaration of independence vote (UDI) in the Catalan parliament and the events leading up to it.

Of the regional leaders who were called to testify in Madrid's central Audiencia Nacional court on Thursday, only nine made the journey to the capital. Eight of the attendees, including ex-vice president, Oriol Junqueras, were refused bail and faced possible charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

Only one who attended the court session, the former Business minister Santi Vila was allowed free if he deposited a 50,000-euro bail. Vila had resigned his post in the Catalan regional government in protest at the planned UDI just ahead of the vote last Friday.

All the regional ministers, known as 'consellers', and former president Carles Puigdemont, were removed from their posts last Saturday with the application of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution that imposed elements of direct rule from Madrid.

Five of the former top regional government team were missing from the morning court session in Madrid in Belgium.

The most notable absence was the ex-regional president himself who was still in Brussels after travelling there earlier in the week, apparently to seek legal advice and try to have their court appearance handled by videolink, a move which the court has refused.

Prosecutors asked the judge on Thursday for an international warrant to be issued for their arrest.

Meanwhile, closeby in Madrid, the Supreme Court was hearing from lawyers of the rebel speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell and five regional MPs who control the parliamentary agenda. They were summoned on suspicion of the same offences However, unlike the 'consellers', they are still in their posts so enjoy some legal immunity and can only testify in the national supreme court and not the lower Audiencia Nacional court.

Unlike the 'consellers' as well, their lawyers managed to get their hearing postponed until 9 November, and they were sent home with a police guard.

Elections called

The court decision on Thursday is the latest turn in Spain's journey through uncharted political waters.

Following last Friday's UDI in Catalonia, the national Senate approved the use of Article 155 measures to rein in the regional government, with the agreement of most national political parties.

PM Mariano Rajoy pleased many by calling snap regional elections in Catalonia for 21 December, to “return the area to legality”.

Separatist parties have said they will stand once more but it wasn't clear if they would form a single coalition like last time.