Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four ex-ministers on Sunday turned themselves in to Belgian authorities to start the process of their possible extradition to Spain. Puigdemont was accompanied by four other former Catalan officials who are also wanted by Spanish authorities after they fled to Belgium last week after their removed from power by Spanish authorities as part of an extraordinary crackdown to impede the region’s illegal declaration of independence.
According to AP, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office, Gilles Dejemeppe, said 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.
The judge will have to decide what the next steps are within 24 hours. They could vary from arrest and imprisonment to conditional release. On Saturday, Belgian federal prosecutors said that they were studying the warrants and that they had shared them with city counterparts in Brussels.
The ousted officials and Puigdemont are wanted in Spain on charges of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public funds as part of their two-year bid to see Catalonia secede from Spain. On Friday, Spain issued a formal request to Belgium for extradition.
Also on Friday Puigdemont suggested he will fight extradition as he doesn’t believe he will get a fair trial in Spain; he also said that he was willing to campaign out of Belgium for the Catalan elections set to take place on Dec. 21. According to Belgian law, his legal battle against extradition can last up to two months.
Addressing Puigdemont's concern, a Belgian government official said on Sunday that the international community has to keep a close eye on Spain to make sure that ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont gets fair legal treatment in Madrid.
Belgian Vice Premier and Interior Minister Jan Jambon told the VTM network that “I am just questioning how an EU member state can go this far — and I am asking myself where Europe is to have an opinion on this.”
And speaking of what now appears to be certain snap elections in Catalonia, an opinion poll published by Barcelona’s La Vanguardia newspaper forecasts a tight electoral race between parties for and against the independence of Catalonia from the rest of Spain. Pro-secession parties held a majority of 72 of 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament before it was dissolved by Spanish authorities as part of a crackdown after it had voted for a declaration of independence. Spanish authorities then called for a snap election for Catalonia on Dec. 21.
The new poll predicts that the three pro-secession parties would win between 66 and 69 seats in December. Sixty-eight seats are needed for a majority, which means that while narrow, a pro-secession vote would mean that the ongoing drama is set to continue indefinitely.