A Belgian court has conditionally released former Catalonian leader Carles Puigdemont pending a ruling on whether to execute a European arrest warrant issued by Spain against him and four of his Cabinet ministers, media reports said on Monday. The judge granted the release of the five former officials after a hearing lasting more than 10 hours, according to Belgian broadcaster VRT. Puigdemont, who faces charges of misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust relating to the secessionist campaign, turned himself into Belgian police earlier on Sunday, reports the Guardian.
The secessionist politicians fled to Belgium on Monday after the Spanish authorities removed Puigdemont and his cabinet from office for pushing ahead with a declaration of independence following a referendum held on October 1. From his self-imposed exile, Puigdemont claimed he would not receive a fair trial in Spain but promised to cooperate with the Belgian justice system. Gilles Dejemeppe, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor, said the Belgian authorities had been in contact with the Catalan separatists before they gave themselves up to the authorities on Sunday morning. The investigating judge’s options, he said, now ranged from “refusal to execute the European arrest, arresting the people involved, releasing them on conditions or under bail”.
Only the five officials, their lawyer and an interpreter were present during Sunday’s hearing, the Guardian reported. Spanish prosecutors are investigating 20 regional politicians for rebellion and other crimes that could be punishable by up to 30 years in prison. On November 2, nine of Puigdemont’s sacked cabinet were ordered by Spain’s high court to be held on remand pending an investigation and potential trial. One member of the dismissed cabinet was freed after paying bail bond.