28 Mar, 2023 @ 18:04
2 mins read

Politician wanted for involvement in 2017 Catalan independence drive returns to Spain but fails to hand herself in

Catalan politician Clara Ponsati
Jane Barlow/PA Wire

CATALAN politician Clara Ponsati, who is wanted by the Spanish authorities for her role in the 2017 independence drive in the region, has returned to Spain after fleeing the country five years ago. She did not, however, hand herself in to the authorities. 

The Spanish Supreme Court issued a new national arrest warrant for Ponsati on January 12 for the offence of disobedience. As such, her return to Spain means that she is risking arrest, legal sources told news agency Europa Press. 

‘The persecution of the exiles has been pathetic, but persistent,’ she told reporters in Barcelona on Tuesday. She was referring to herself and the other pro-independence leaders who opted to leave Spain in 2017 to avoid trial.

Ponsati has been living in Belgium and Scotland since she left Spain in 2017, a year that saw the Catalan regional government hold an illegal referendum on secession and subsequently unilaterally declare independence. 

She moved from Scotland to Belgium in 2021 after a Scottish court began to consider an extradition request from the Spanish government. 

She is now, however, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the pro-independence Junts party. As such, her defence lawyers believe that she cannot be arrested as she enjoys immunity from prosecution as an MEP. 

Ponsati was originally wanted on charges of sedition. However, the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez recently changed the Criminal Code to eliminate that offence altogether. 

This move was slammed by the political opposition as kowtowing to the Catalan nationalists, whom the Socialist Party leader relies on to pass legislation. But for Sanchez, the move was necessary as part of a political solution to the ongoing tensions with the northeastern Spanish region. 

Since the change in the law, the Supreme Court is now seeking that Ponsati face charges for disobedience. If she does not hand herself in she faces arrest so that she can be questioned by investigators at the court. 

Government pardons

In June 2021, the Spanish government pardoned nine of the Catalan independence leaders who had been given jail sentences by the Supreme Court for their roles in the events of 2021. These included the former regional vice premier, Oriol Junqueras, and the former government spokesperson Jordi Turull. 

They were found guilty of offences including sedition and misuse of public funds, and given sentences of between nine and 13 years in October 2019. 

The regional premier at the time of the events in 2017, Carles Puigdemont, is still living in self-imposed exile in Belgium. He was not eligible for a pardon given that he is yet to be tried by the Supreme Court for his alleged offences and also faces arrest if and when he returns to Spain.

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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