HELSINKI/BARCELONA, Spain (Reuters) - Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont faces arrest in Finland after authorities there received an international warrant for his detention issued by Spain, the latest legal action against separatist politicians from the wealthy northeastern region.
If he returns to Spain, Puigdemont faces up to 25 years in prison on charges of rebellion and sedition for his part in organizing an illegal referendum on secession last year.
When police reach Puigdemont, a normal extradition process will begin, though they currently have no knowledge of his whereabouts, Finnish authorities said in a statement on Saturday.
In an interview with Spanish radio station Catalunya Radio earlier, Puigdemont’s lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, had said his client was prepared to present himself to Finnish police.
Puigdemont went into self-imposed exile in Belgium last year, shortly after the Catalan parliament made a symbolic declaration of independence from Spain. He arrived in Finland on Thursday to meet lawmakers and attend a conference.
On Friday, Spanish supreme court judge Pablo Llarena ruled a total of 25 separatist politicians, including Puigdemont, would face trial for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state.
Of those, five were sent on Friday to pre-trial jail, among them Jordi Turull, a close ally of Puigdemont who was due to be put forward for a second vote on Saturday to become the next regional president.
With Turull in jail and unable to attend the session for which his presence is a requirement, Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent canceled the vote on Saturday, holding in its place a debate that at several points became heated and saw members of one opposition party abandon the chamber in protest.
Speaking after the debate, accompanied by various other heads of parties and in front of a crowd of supporters, Torrent described Madrid’s legal action as an “attack on the heart of democracy.”
“Locking up people for their political ideas and pursuing those that refuse to renounce them is to put an end to the freedom of political thought,” Torrent said, calling on Catalan politicians to form a broad coalition in opposition to Madrid’s actions.
Reprting by Sam Edwards and Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Mark Potter