Former president of Catalunya Carles Puigdemont and his four ministers who fled to Belgium with him have been released from custody with charges, but are not permitted to leave the northern European country.
Clara Ponsatí, Meritxell Serret, Antoni Comín and Lluís Puig – ex-regional ministers of teaching, agriculture, health and culture respectively – and Puigdemont were reported to have been arrested at exactly 09.17 yesterday (Sunday) morning, but later reports claim they voluntarily attended the police station after agreeing with the Belgian prosecution to do so in light of the international arrest warrant issued by Spanish National Court judge Carmen Lamela.
They all testified separately before a judge in Brussels yesterday between 16.00 and 20.00 in the prosecutor’s office and left the building in a minibus without giving any statements to the media.
About 50 reporters had gathered outside the prosecution headquarters in the hope of Puigdemont and his ministers giving a press conference, but were disappointed.
Some 15 individuals were also waiting outside, waving Catalunya regional flags and shouting ‘good luck’ and ‘you’re not alone’.
The ‘Catalunya Five’ have been allowed to read the full text of the European arrest warrant against them and permitted to have their lawyers and an interpreter present.
Spain, Belgium and the five politicians are now waiting with bated breath to find out what the next step will be.
The judge in Brussels has 15 days to decide whether or not to comply with the extradition order sent from Spain and, if Puigdemont and his colleagues do not agree with the verdict, they can appeal within another 15 days.
Next, the court of appeal in Brussels will have a further 15 days to accept or reject their application and issue a verdict.
The entire process could take up to 60 days.
Belgium is the only EU country permitted to offer asylum to citizens of other member States, and the country’s immigration minister Theo Francken of the pro-Flemish independence party N-VA, has said this could, in theory, be granted to Puigdemont and his ministers on political grounds.
But at least one Belgian government MP has said they would be extradited within the 60-day deadline because ‘there is nothing else’ the national authorities can do.
If Belgium did grant political asylum to the five, it could lead to diplomatic tensions between the country and Spain.
The photograph shows Puigdemont in the prosecution headquarters yesterday evening.