Spanish court reactivates warrant for three Catalan separatist leaders

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday reactivated a European arrest warrant for three Catalan leaders who fled Spain after taking part in a failed independence bid in 2017.

FILE PHOTO - Dismissed Catalan politician Lluis Puig talks to the media during a protest in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The warrants target Lluis Puig and Toni Comin, who live in self-imposed exile in Belgium, and Clara Ponsati, who lives in Scotland.

Comin and Ponsati face a charge of sedition, similar to the nine independence leaders sentenced in October to up to 13 years in prison, while Comin also faces a charge of misuse of public funds, as does Puig, according to court documents.

The sentencing set off weeks of protests, at times violent, that rocked the Catalan regional capital Barcelona. Polls suggest the unrest has boosted right-wing parties as the country heads into its fourth election in as many years.

The court said the sentencing of the Catalan leaders had strengthened the argument underpinning the warrants.

“The evidence of criminality...not only persists but now has a verdict that serves as a reinforcement,” it said.

The new warrants drew reaction from Catalan regional president Quim Torra, who said they issued by “a state in full authoritarian drift and consumed by the spirit of revenge”.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar said his client Ponsati was determined to fight the warrant, but planned to appear at an Edinburgh police office on Thursday where she expected to be arrested.

“It will be argued by Clara’s legal team that there is no guarantee of a right to a fair trial in Spain, where most members of the Catalan government are already in prison or in exile,” he said in a statement.

Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan leader who appeared before Belgian authorities after Madrid reactivated his arrest warrant last month, sent a message of support.

“With you, always,” he wrote on Twitter.

Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Writing by Ashifa Kassam; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Angus MacSwan