World News

Spanish prosecutor seeks charges for deposed Catalan leaders

Posted October 30, 2017 1:23 a.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2017 10:13 a.m. EDT

— Spain's state prosecutor is seeking charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds against Catalan leaders involved in the region's disputed independence bid that has thrown the country into political turmoil.

The prosecutor, Jose Manuel Maza, said he was seeking charges against a range of senior Catalan figures, including deposed President Carles Puigdemont and all members of his former cabinet, after the Catalan parliament voted to issue a unilateral declaration of independence last week.

The crime of rebellion carries a maximum jail sentence of 30 years, while sedition has a maximum of 15 years.

Maza said the leaders had "created an institutional crisis that culminated with the declaration of unilateral independence, with total disregard for our Constitution." He said his office had filed documents with the High Court and Supreme Court, which will consider the charges.

A document laying out the charges says that several of the leaders had misused public funds by holding an independence referendum on October 1, which it described as illegal. Catalan leaders have argued that there is no legal way to give their people a choice on secession.

Madrid's control tested

The announcement came as civil servants in Catalonia returned to work under the Spanish government's control, following the week of political upheaval.

Madrid suspended the region's autonomy and imposed direct rule after the Catalan parliament unilaterally declared independence on Friday in Barcelona.

Invoking a never-before-used provision of the Spanish constitution, the Spanish government sacked the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, who spearheaded the region's independence bid. It also dissolved parliament and called new elections for December 21.

Civil servants, some of whom supported the independence bid, faced a choice of obey Madrid or not showing up in an act of defiance.

The Catalan Government's headquarters appeared quiet as the working day began on Monday. A staff member at the reception desk told CNN that everything was operating as normal.

The parliament's speaker, Carme Forcadell, said on Twitter that she would show up for work on Monday, as expected by Madrid, to oversee the transition of power until the December vote. "We continue working," she wrote.

Local armed police guarded the entrance to the government's headquarters in Barcelona, in a sign that local security forces were working as normal. The two chiefs of the Catalan police were among those dismissed by Madrid.

Spain's Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido and several other senior officials will meet with the new chief of the Catalan police, Ferran López, in Madrid.

"We have to go on and back to institutional normality and hold elections on December 21st and that is what we have to do," Zoido told journalists Monday.

The Catalan Police Prefecture circulated a letter over the weekend asking the local police force, the the Mossos d'Esquadra, to remain neutral.

Puigdemont's next move

Puigdemont's Catalan European Democratic Party held a meeting at its headquarters Monday morning.

Madrid had said Puigdemont would be eligible to run in the December vote, but it also suggested he would likely be arrested.

Before the prosecutor's announcement, Puigdemont posted a photograph on social media Monday that had been taken from inside the Catalan government's building with the caption, "Good morning" in Catalan and a smiley face. The photo had been clearly taken on a previous day and there was no sign that had entered the building on Monday.

Puigdemont had shown no signs of backing down, saying from his hometown of Girona at the weeekend that he still intended to build an independent country. He has called on Catalans to opposed Madrid's rule in a democratic, peaceful fashion.

Deep divisions

Spain was plunged into it worst political crisis since the restoration of democracy in the 1970s after Catalonia held the independence referendum on October 1, which Madrid and the country's top court called illegal. Puigdemont said that the vote gave him a mandate to declare independence.

Some 90% voted in favor of independence in the disputed referendum earlier this month, but turnout was only 43%.

A new poll suggests that political parties backing independence would not win a majority if elections were held today.

Pro-independence parties would get 61 to 65 seats in the region's parliament, short of a majority in the 135-seat assembly, the Sigma Dos poll suggests. The poll was published Sunday in El Mundo, which has run editorials opposing independence.

Pro-independence parties had 72 seats in the parliament before it was dissolved.

The poll of 1,000 people in Catalonia was conducted by telephone on October 23 to 26, before the Catalan parliament voted to declare independence.