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Spain court summons deposed Catalan leader to Madrid

Dismissed Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont walks past Spanish flag as he arrives to address a press conference at The Press Club in Brussels on October 31, 2017. Catalonia’s dismissed leader Carles Puigdemont along with other members of his dismissed government addressed a press conference at The Press Club in Brussels on October 31, 2017, a day after he arrived in Belgium as Spanish prosecutors demanded he be charged with rebellion after the region’s parliament declared independence. NICOLAS MAETERLINCK / BELGA / AFP

Spain’s top criminal court said Tuesday it had summoned Catalonia’s deposed leader Carles Puigdemont and 13 other former members of his government to be put under official investigation over the region’s separatist drive.

The National Audience summoned the 14 to appear in court in Madrid on Thursday and Friday and gave them three days to pay a combined deposit against potential penalties of 6.2 million euros ($7.2 million).

Puigdemont and several of his former ministers travelled to Belgium after they were dismissed by Madrid on Friday as the central government took direct control of the semi-autonomous region whose parliament had just declared unilateral independence.

On Monday, Spain’s chief prosecutor said he was seeking charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds against them.

Puigdemont appeared in a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday, saying he was still the “legitimate president” of Catalonia but denying he was seeking asylum.

If Puigdemont and his former ministers refuse to appear in court as requested, Spanish prosecutors could order their arrest.

And if they are still in Belgium when that happens, Spain could issue an international arrest warrant.

National Audience judge Carmen Lamela argued in her ruling that despite repeated court prohibitions, the Catalan government “continued to promote the necessary measures to create an independent Catalan state.”

The judge said prosecutors’ arguments were “serious, rational and logical.”

The case against Puigdemont and his government was combined with another against the leaders of two grassroots independence organisations, Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly, who have been held in preventative detention since October 16.

The two men are accused of sedition for staging a demonstration in Barcelona last month that hindered a police raid against organisers of an unauthorised independence referendum on October 1.

The National Audience will on Friday consider an appeal filed by the two against their detention.

Earlier Tuesday Spain’s Supreme Court summoned the former speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and her parliamentary deputies to appear for questioning on Thursday and Friday over the region’s independence drive.

The crime of rebellion carries a prison term of up to 30 years while sedition can be punished with a sentence of up to 15 years.

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