The National Audience in Madrid has summoned Catalonia’s axed separatist leader for questioning, hours after he appeared in Brussels insisting he remained the “legitimate president” of a region now under direct rule from Madrid.
13 other former members of his administration were also summoned, dismissed by Spain’s central government last week, to appear Thursday and Friday. They are then set to be placed under formal investigation.
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 travelled with him would return only if they have guarantees that legal proceedings would be impartial.
Two former ministers flew back to Barcelona late on Tuesday where they were greeted by a small group of demonstrators who waved Spanish flags in their faces and shouted “traitors!” and “Viva Espana!” at them.
If Puigdemont fails to appear in court as requested, Spanish prosecutors could order his arrest.
His lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas complained in a Tweet that Puigdemont had not been “given time to prepare the defence.”
The National Audience also gave Puigdemont and his former ministers three days to pay a combined deposit against potential penalties of 6.2 million euros ($7.2 million).