Spanish judge orders Catalan parliament speaker jailed until bail paid

A Spanish judge jailed the Catalan parliament’s speaker Thursday in a rebellion probe stemming from an independence declaration, but set Carme Forcadell’s bail at €150,000 ($ 220,000 Cdn) and ordered her passport to be confiscated as the investigation continues.

Supreme Court magistrate Pablo Llarena questioned Forcadell and five other members of the Catalan parliament’s governing body on Thursday for more than 10 hours before deciding whether to jail them. They face charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

The judge set bail at €25,000 ($ 37,000) to be paid in one week for four of the lawmakers, and released from custody another who had made the Oct. 27 independence vote possible by allowing a debate on secession but opposed the declaration of a separate republic.

While appearing in court for questioning, Forcadell sought to avoid detention by describing the independence declaration as “symbolic,” according to lawyers familiar with her testimony.

The lawyers asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the court proceedings.

Eight former members of the Catalan government and the leaders of the two main pro-independence grassroots groups are in custody awaiting trial for their leading roles in the independence drive.

On Thursday, High Court Judge Carmen Lamela rejected an appeal presented by their lawyers for their release, a court spokesperson said.

Forcadell had earlier told the Supreme Court that the Oct. 27 independence declaration was not legally binding, according to court sources, in a comment that could undermine the region’s secessionist push.


Carme Forcadell, Speaker of the Catalan parliament, arrives at Spain’s Supreme Court to testify. (Juan Carlos Rojas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Forcadell remains the parliament’s president, heading a commission of two dozen lawmakers during the transitional period to next month’s polls.

Around 100 supporters chanted “You are not alone” as the lawmakers entered the Supreme Court building in central Madrid on Thursday, while police kept at bay a handful of anti-independence protesters carrying Spanish flags and shouting “You don’t fool us, Catalonia is Spain.”

All in one court?

The Supreme Court, which handles cases against defendants with parliamentary immunity, will decide whether to place Forcadell and the other five legislators in custody pending the investigation, or release them under certain conditions.

The same court decided on Thursday to take over two other cases against Forcadell and the lawmakers currently overseen by the Catalan High Court, suggesting judges were looking to centralize all legal proceedings involving the independence vote in one court.

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Protesters struggle with Catalan police at the gates of Barcelona’s main train station during a general strike Wednesday. (Santi Palacios/Associated Press)

The Supreme Court has legal powers to also take over the Spanish High Court case involving the government members, but so far has made no statement on its intentions.

The Spanish High Court has issued an arrest warrant on sedition and rebellion charges for deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who went into  exile in Belgium last week, and against four former members of his cabinet who are with him in Brussels.

In a letter posted on social media Thursday, the five made a call for support for pro-secession parties in Catalonia’s upcoming regional election.

“It’s time to drive away from the [Catalan] institutions those who want to own them with a coup d’état,” Puigdemont tweeted, referring to Spain’s decision to take control of Catalonia’s powers.

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Catalan President Carles Puigdemont takes part at a march in Barcelona on Oct. 21. Puidgemont has since fled to Brussels. (Manu Fernandez/Associated Press)

Spain’s Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido told Spanish television on Thursday, “Puigdemont has fled, but Puigdemont will come back and answer to Spanish justice, I have no doubt.”

The deposed leader appealed without success for EU intervention over the crisis.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, speaking from the Spanish city of Salamanca on Thursday at an event also attended by Rajoy, called on Europe to reject all forms of separatism.

“Nationalisms are a poison that prevent Europe from working together,” he said.

Rajoy said that he hopes voters “meet their obligations as Spaniards and Europeans” in next month’s election in Catalonia. He said “a lot will be decided” by the ballot and urged a big turnout.


Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, right, talks to Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria before the weekly cabinet control session in Madrid Wednesday. (Sergio Perez/Reuters)

“The objective of the government is, and I think it would be for the majority of people, is that after the 21st December we enter a stage of tranquility, a moment of normality, a stage when social cohesion is recovered,” he said.

Economic impact?

Meanwhile, the European Union has conceded that developments in Catalonia could have a negative impact on Spain’s economy.

In its half-yearly forecasts, the European Commission said the risk exists that “future developments could have an impact on economic growth” but that the size of any impact “cannot be anticipated at this stage.”

It also noted that the market reactions to the push for independence in Catalonia have been “contained.”


Protesters play cards on top of a Catalan separatist flag while blocking the tracks inside the station of the high speed train AVE during a partial regional strike in Girona, Spain, on Wednesday. (Albert Gea/Reuters)

In Brussels, Pierre Moscovici, the European Commission’s top economy official, said: “We cannot speculate on any political development anywhere.”

The commission is predicting that the Spanish economy will grow by 3.1 per cent this year, falling back to 2.5 per cent and 2.1 per cent over the coming two years, even without any impact from Catalonia.

Spain divided, Catalonia divided

The Catalan independence push has deeply divided Spain, dragging it into its worst political crisis since the return of democracy four decades ago and fuelling anti-Spanish sentiment in Catalonia and nationalist tendencies elsewhere.

But the struggle has also divided Catalonia itself, and cracks have begun appearing within the pro-independence movement.


In this still image from video, protesters block the tracks of the high speed train in Sants train station in Barcelona Wednesday. (Reuters)

On Tuesday, Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party failed to agree on a united ticket to contest the election with their largercoalition partner, the Republican Left, making it difficult for the pro-independence camp to govern the region after the vote and press ahead with its bid to split from Spain.

Rajoy called the election following the independence declaration, after he dissolved the Catalan parliament and dismissed Puigdemont and his cabinet.

Forcadell at the time described Rajoy’s actions as a “coup” and an “attack against democracy”.

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