Catalan leadership in detention... at least briefly

When we last checked in with the Catalan leadership team they were on the run in Brussels and working on a plan to stay out of jail. That process only lasted for a little more than a day, at which point Carles Puigdemont and his deputies turned themselves in to authorities. At that point, their immediate future was rather uncertain since the Belgians had said that their arrest warrants in Spain were valid and extradition proceedings could well begin immediately. (BBC)

Brussels prosecutors say that ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and four ex-ministers have been taken into custody to start the process of their possible extradition to Spain.

A spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office, Gilles Dejemeppe, says the five presented themselves to federal police and have been in custody since 9 a.m. (0800 GMT; 3 a.m. EST). He said that they have not been arrested and that Puigdemont and the four ex-ministers will be heard by an investigative judge Sunday afternoon.

It sounds as if Brussels was doing everything they could to dance around this uncomfortable subject while not taking sides. So Puigdemont and his team weren’t technically “under arrest” at that point, but they also weren’t being allowed to leave. It was all up to the judge. Several hours later that aspect of their fate was decided.

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four former ministers have been freed with conditions by an investigating judge in Belgium.

The judge said they could not leave the country without permission and had to give details of their accommodation…

The five are wanted in Spain to face charges including rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

They are now expected to appear in court in Belgium within 15 days. Belgium has a maximum of 60 days to return the five to Spain but, if they do not raise legal objections, a transfer could happen much sooner.

At this point, the clock we discussed over the weekend has begun ticking. It will be two weeks before they have to appear before a judge for the first extradition hearing. During that time, Puigdemont will be able to pursue his stated intention to campaign for his old office in the snap elections which Madrid scheduled for Catalonia on December 21st. But at the hearing, those plans could be cut short.

If the judge allows the full sixty days before taking action, Puigdemont will be able to make it through the entire election and see where things stand back home. But if he’s shipped out before then he could find himself in a Spanish prison awaiting trial when the results are announced. This would eliminate the trump card which the former Catalan leader still has in his pocket. If he loses the election or wins but finds out that Madrid will simply invalidate that vote also, he could still ask for political asylum. Belgium has already indicated that they would at least be willing to consider such a request. In theory, Puigdemont could then just take up residence in Brussels and act as a perpetual thorn in the side of the Spanish federal government.

What remains unclear is what would happen if he does manage to win the election. As I already said, it’s possible that Spain would simply arrest him anyway, dump him in prison as a flight risk and put him on trial for sedition and rebellion. Also, with their newly re-elected leader in the slammer, the Catalans might be forced to run the election yet again.

I keep watching this drama play out and find myself thinking that there’s some brilliant, master plan like something out of an international thriller novel in play which will see Puigdemont back on the path to leadership in a newly independent Catalonia. But for the life of me I don’t see how that happens from here. It looks as if the party is pretty much over and he’s essentially going to have to choose between life behind bars and becoming a Belgian.