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Jailed Catalan leaders could be freed as probe changes hands

(FILES) This file photo taken on October 31, 2017 shows dismissed Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont arriving to address media representatives at The Press Club in Brussels. The separatist party of deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, against whom Spain has launched an arrest warrant, said today they wanted him as candidate for regional elections on December 21. / AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

Spain’s Supreme Court said Friday it had taken over the investigation of all deposed Catalan separatist leaders, a move that could see those jailed by another court set free.

Until now, Judge Pablo Llarena of the Supreme Court had only been in charge of the investigation for alleged rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds involving members of Catalonia’s parliament.

But the court announced Friday he has also taken on the probe of deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his 13 former ministers, which had initially been managed by Spain’s lower-level National Court.

The separatist leaders, who were axed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on October 27 after the Catalan parliament declared unilateral independence, are also charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

Llarena will also take responsibility for the probe into the heads of two Catalan pro-independence associations, accused of sedition.

Judge Carmen Lamela of the National Court sent all of them to jail pending further investigation, and issued an arrest warrant for Puigdemont and four former ministers who are currently in Belgium and didn’t turn up for questioning.

The move prompted accusations that Madrid was taking “political prisoners” over Catalonia’s independence drive.

Llarena, on the other hand, decided the former parliament members could remain free as the investigation goes on.

This implies that he could also order the release of the separatist leaders who were jailed, just weeks before regional elections in Catalonia on December 21.

Llarena, who knows Catalonia well after having lived there several years, said the cases involving members of the regional parliament, government and independence associations were connected, the court statement said.

He said all probes should come together, especially given that the charge of “rebellion” implies the “coordinated” action of all defendants.

The charges brought against Puigdemont and his former ministers are severe, and could see them jailed for up to 30 years.



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