Catalonian leader's new agenda: Stay out of jail

Carles Puigdemont may no longer be the official leader of the Catalans but he has a lot of business to attend to. Hiding out in Brussels, he has declared (through his attorney) that he will not be officially seeking asylum… at least for now. But the situation ratcheted up in intensity yesterday when Spain issued arrest warrants for Puigdemont and several of his aides who have taken up residence in Belgium. This is setting off a predictable (and likely lengthy) chain of events in the courts of both countries. (Boston Globe)

A Spanish judge issued an international arrest warrant on Friday for former members of the Catalan Cabinet who were last seen in Brussels, including the ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont who said he was prepared to run for his old job even while battling extradition in Belgium.

The National Court judge filed the request with the Belgian prosecutor to detain Puigdemont and his four aides, and issued separate international search and arrest warrants to alert Interpol in case they flee Belgium.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer has said that his client will fight extradition to Spain without seeking political asylum.

The sticking point, for now, isn’t whether Puigdemont can beat the rap or somehow establish a permanent residence elsewhere. It’s how long he can tie the case up in court. In case you missed a minor footnote in the linked article above, he’s currently planning to run for his old office in the upcoming elections which were called by Madrid. So for the moment, Puigdemont is basically trying to run out the clock. (Associated Press)

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was a wanted man after Spain issued a European warrant for his arrest — and the main question Saturday was how long he could delay the extradition process in Belgium and stay out of the hands of Spanish justice…

But the longer he can delay, the more he can stretch out the legal timetable for any extradition process to Spain and perhaps be a factor or even run in the Dec. 21 regional election that Spanish authorities have called for Catalonia. Legal experts have told The Associated Press that the whole process in Belgium from arrest to extradition, including appeals, could take about two months.

Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said his government will have no influence over the future of Puigdemont or the other Catalan officials because the European arrest warrant “is a completely legal procedure.”

There’s some cat and mouse type strategy going on here. Belgian officials are saying that the extradition process is legal, but with the normal set of appeals available it could take “up to two months” before Puigdemont would be physically turned over. In the meantime, the election is roughly seven weeks away, falling on December 21st. Talk about cutting it close.

But what’s Puigdemont’s end game scenario here? Yes, he’s still at least somewhat popular at home, but let’s just say for the sake of speculation that he manages to legally get on the ballot and somehow wins. What next? The moment he sets foot back in his native land to be sworn in to his old office he’ll just be arrested. Keep in mind that he was in elective office when this entire mess kicked off and that didn’t stop the federal government in Madrid from simply dissolving his regional government and bringing charges against him. Since those charges have yet to be satisfied there doesn’t seem to be anything preventing them from arresting him whether he wins or not.

Barring an actual revolution (which thankfully nobody seems to support), the Catalonian bid for independence seems to be over and Puigdemont stands charged with very serious crimes. Madrid appears to have won the court battle on the secession question and the Catalans have no legal path to independence short of winning a literal civil war. If Puigdemont wants to be the leader of anything he would need to transition from politician to general and take up arms, a prospect which looks increasingly unlikely to the great relief of all concerned.

At this point, discretion may indeed prove to be the better part of valor. Perhaps Puigdemont should simply change his mind and apply for assylum after all. It sounds like the Belgians are at least willing to entertain the idea.