Photo: Carles Puigdemont inside the building of the prosecution and the courts of instruction in Brussels, where he made a declaration today, along with the four directors who are in Belgium with him / AFP PHOTO / BELGA / NICOLAS MAETERLINCK
By Laia Forès, Brussels, November 5th, 2017, updated at 23:50
Carles Puigdemont and the four advisers who are with him in Belgium will await for the decision on their extradition to Spain in freedom. Belgian law considers that there is no risk of escape and last night decreed the release of the five members of the Government after they voluntarily presented themselves to the police, according to a statement at almost midnight by lawyer representing Toni Comín and Meritxell Serret, Gonzalo Boye, in La Sexta (Spanish News). None of them can leave Belgium until the decision on their extradition. A pact between the prosecution and the lawyers of Catalan politicians prevented Puigdemont, Comín, Serret, Ponsatí and Puig from being arrested by the police. The agreement avoided there being any images, therefore, of a detention in Brussels. Now the dossier will be passed to the board of the chamber of first instance, where another judge will have to decide on the arrest order – that is to say, if it accepts, or not, the extradition of Puigdemont and the counsellors – within a maximum period of 15 days. The decision may be appealed twice and the process may be extended for two months.
Early in the morning, just past 9:15am, all five politicians arrived discreetly at the station of the judicial police in Brussels. “I can confirm that the five people claimed by Spain have presented themselves to the police this morning,” said the prosecutor’s spokesman, Gilles Dejemeppe. They stayed until about two o’clock in the afternoon, when they moved to the headquarters of the court of instruction. There they made declarations for five hours before a judge, who, after listening to them, decided to allow them to leave in freedom.
The judge who took the decision imposed some precautionary measures on them. At the time of publishing this edition the only confirmed limitation was not to leave the country, although among the possible measures there was, an instruction to have no relationship with the media.
Belgian law considers that the five members of the Government in Brussels, accused of the same crimes as the rest of the members of the executive who are currently imprisoned by the State, in Spain, should not be in prison while resolving their situation, a point of view totally opposed to that of Spanish justice. Different, too, was the treatment they received by police agents. The president and the advisers were transferred in unmarked police vehicles, in order to provide discretion, and without handcuffs. “They were not handcuffed because they do represent a threat to the police,” Dejemeppe said.
Although Puigdemont and some of the board members expressed themselves well in French, all five chose to take the legal prodceedings in Dutch (in Brussels the two languages are official and in processes of justice, those affected can select a procedural language), with the help of interpreters. The judge assigned to the case, who decreed their freedom, is a native Dutch speaker, and the leading party in Flanders is the NV-A, a pro-independence party, a fact which could perhaps lend more of an advantage to the process, than a French-speaker.
Belgian criticism of the Spanish state
While the president and the board members expect the Belgian justice to decide if it will surrender them to the Spanish National Court, in Belgium there are more and more critics against the action of Mariano Rajoy and Spanish justice. In the country chosen by Puigdemont to avoid a “politicized justice”, relevant political leaders do not understand why the eight members of the Government are in custody. “Madrid has gone too far,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, Jan Jambon, of the independent N-VA flamenco party yesterday in an interview on VTM television.
Jambon clearly defended the Catalan Government’s action and spoke out harshly against article 155. “Now that the Spanish executive will replace a democratically elected government, the members of a government have been imprisoned … what have they done wrong? Simply apply the mandate they have received from the voters, “said a forceful Jambon.
The criticisms of the Spanish government’s actions do not only come from independentism. The former Belgian Prime Minister and current leader of the French-speaking Socialist Party, Elio Di Rupo, was also very hard with Madrid. “Mariano Rajoy is behaving like an authoritarian Francoist,” Di Rupo said in a tweet. The former prime minister, however, also asserted that Puigdemont had “abused his position,” and Di Rupo positioned himself in favor of a federal Spain.
The words of Jambon angered the PP. The head of the Spanish populist groups in the European Parliament, Esteban González Pons, assured that the N-VA minister “does not understand that in a democracy like the Spanish, the separation of powers works: it has been justice, and not the government, who has decided on the legal situation “of the directors, said the MEP.