26, September 2017
Spain’s chief public prosecutor has refused to rule out the arrest of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont for pushing ahead with an independence referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.
“Legally the conditions may be met” for Puigdemont’s arrest, Jose Manuel Maza said during an interview with radio Onda Cero. “It’s a decision that is possible but we have not considered that we should take it,” he added.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has repeatedly said that the referendum slated for October 1 — which his conservative party insists is illegal and unconstitutional — will not take place, and the legislation underpinning the vote has already been suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court.
Spanish prosecutors have warned that officials engaged in any preparations for the plebiscite could be charged with civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds.
Maza said Puigdemont could be arrested for misuse of public funds, as this crime carries a jail sentence.
Prosecutors have also told police to investigate any efforts to promote the referendum and ordered a criminal investigation of over 700 Catalan mayors who have pledged to cooperate with the vote.
Police on Monday summoned 17 people for allegedly developing web platforms dedicated to the banned referendum.
Puigdemont, a former journalist and provincial mayor, regularly tweets links to the websites, which tell Catalans where they can vote in the referendum. He has said he is ready to go to prison rather than give up his push for independence.
Key members of the team organizing the vote have been put under official investigation for disobedience, malfeasance and embezzlement of public funds. Organizers of protests last week have been threatened with charges of sedition.
And police have seized close to ten million ballot papers, as well as other items destined for the vote. But Catalonia’s pro-separatist government has vowed to go ahead with the referendum.
If the “yes” side wins it has said it would declare independence within days for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, home to about 7.5 million people.
Polls show Catalans are split on the issue of independence, but a large majority want to vote in a legitimate referendum to settle the matter.