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Lawyer: Catalonia’s Puigdemont Unlikely to Return to Spain

Lawyer: Catalonia’s Puigdemont Unlikely to Return to Spain

Wednesday, 1 November, 2017 - 11:45
Carles Puigdemont, before his press conference at the Press Club in Brussels. Nicolas Maeterlinck/AFP

Catalonia's dismissed leader Carles Puigdemont will not return to Spain as there is a "good chance that he would be detained", one of his lawyers has said.

Speaking to Dutch public newscaster NOS late Tuesday, Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaert said "as far as he told me that's not going to happen" when asked if his client would go back to Spain.

"That's because we are awaiting further reactions from the Spanish authorities to see what's going to happen," Bekaert said, speaking by phone to the Nieuwsuur actuality program.

The lawyer also told the Associated Press on Wednesday that Puigdemont "is not going to Madrid and I suggested that they question him here in Belgium. It is possible."

Puigdemont together with 13 other former members of his administration has been summoned by Madrid’s National Audience, which deals with major criminal cases.

He and his government were sacked on Friday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hours after passing a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain through the regional parliament, a vote boycotted by the opposition and considered illegal by Spanish courts.

On Monday, Spain's chief prosecutor said he was seeking charges of rebellion -- punishable by up to 30 years behind bars -- sedition and misuse of public funds.

But the 54-year-old Puigdemont is in Brussels, where he surfaced after reportedly driving to Marseille in France and taking a plane to the Belgian capital.

At a packed and chaotic news conference Tuesday, Puigdemont said he was in Brussels "for safety purposes and freedom" and to "explain the Catalan problem in the institutional heart of Europe".

He denied that he intended to claim asylum but said he and several other former ministers who traveled with him would return only if they have guarantees that legal proceedings would be impartial.

Bekaert told NOS he believed "there is a good chance that Puigdemont will be detained" should he return to Spain.

Asked whether Puigdemont would face a fair trial in Spain, the lawyer said "it would be premature (to say), but that would certainly be an argument we would use at an eventual extradition request".

Attention in the crisis over Catalonia is now turning to the December election, called by Rajoy when Madrid took over control of the autonomous region.

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