Spain’s chief prosecutor says he is seeking criminal charges against Catalonia’s ousted leaders following the region’s declaration of independence from Madrid.
Jose Manuel Maza said on Monday that his office would seek charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against members of Catalonia’s deposed secessionist government after the region’s disputed independence bid threw the country into political turmoil.
Speaking at a press conference, Maza said the leaders had created “an institutional crisis that culminated with the unilateral declaration of independence made with total contempt for our constitution on October 27.”
The chief prosecutor said he had filed criminal complaints of 118 pages with the Spanish High Court and Supreme Court, which will consider the charges against a range of senior Catalan figures, including ousted president Carles Puigdemont and all members of his former cabinet.
Maza stopped short of ordering the immediate arrest of Puigdemont and others in Catalonia, but said they would be summoned to appear in court in the coming days.
Catalonia’s separatist leaders could land in jail for up to 30 years if found guilty.
The Monday announcement came as Catalan officials and civil servants defied instructions from Madrid and returned to work for the first time since Spain sacked the separatist regional government and imposed direct control.
Meanwhile, Spanish government sources said that Puigdemont, accompanied by others from his former administration, was in Brussels, amid calls for him to be charged with rebellion over his drive for Catalan independence.
The Belgium Immigration Ministry had earlier suggested that Puigdemont could receive asylum in the European country on the grounds that he might not get a fair trial in Spain, saying it was “not unrealistic” that Belgium could offer protection to the 54-year-old leader.
Spain has been in turmoil since the Catalan independence referendum that took place on October 1 and was declared by Madrid as illegal. Puigdemont claimed that 90 percent of the voters in the referendum had backed secession, but the turnout had been put at only 43 percent.
Tensions have been running high between Madrid and the autonomous region after the declaration of Catalonia’s independence on Friday.
Speaking during a televised speech later on that day, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said his cabinet had dismissed the regional president and parliament and ordered regional elections to be held on December 21.
Apart from removing the Catalan president, the Spanish premier also fired the region’s police chief and ordered central government ministries to take over the Catalan administration.
In reaction to Madrid’s move, the main secessionist group, the Catalan National Assembly, urged civil servants to respond with “peaceful resistance” and disobey the Spanish government’s orders.
The independence movement in the region argues that Catalonia has an identity distinct from Spain, granting its people the moral, cultural, economic and political right to self-determination.