Feb 21, 10:21 AM EST

Spain: Judge orders arrest of separatist if she returns


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Seeking Swiss safety, Catalan activist snubs Spanish probe

MADRID (AP) -- A Spanish judge on Tuesday ordered the arrest of a leading Catalan separatist politician if she returns to Spain from Switzerland, where she has moved to avoid a judicial inquiry.

Judge Pablo Llarena issued the national arrest warrant after Anna Gabriel, the leader of the anti-establishment Popular Unity Candidature or CUP party, failed to appear at the Supreme Court Wednesday for questioning over her role in last year's push for Catalan independence.

Gabriel, who was a lawmaker in the Catalan regional assembly until late October, had previously said she would snub the judge's summon because she considers the probe politically motivated. Her lawyers had argued that the trial couldn't be considered fair.

The activist also told a Swiss broadcaster in an interview aired on Tuesday that she would apply for asylum in Switzerland if Spanish authorities sought her extradition.

Spain's public prosecutor had requested for an international arrest warrant to be issued, but the judge only ordered for Gabriel to be arrested if she returns home.

The decision came after Swiss authorities warned that there wouldn't be enough legal grounds for her extradition.

A spokesman for Switzerland's Federal Office of Justice said the country does not grant judicial assistance for "political offenses," in keeping with Swiss law and European conventions governing Switzerland's relations with Spain.

"According to articles in the media, the acts that the Catalan politician has been blamed for appear at first glance to be political offenses," the office's spokesman, Folco Galli, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. He said the office had received no request from Spanish authorities.

"Even if it turns out that the facts alleged against Ms. Anna Gabriel would also be punishable in Switzerland, extradition to Spain would not be possible," he added.

Gabriel is the sixth Catalan politician evading the judicial probe and trying to bring attention to the Catalan conflict by moving to a major European capital.

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four members of his former Cabinet fled to Belgium in October, days after regional separatist lawmakers passed an illegal independence declaration.

The Supreme Court probe is looking into whether two dozen people should be charged for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement, which can be punished with decades in prison.

Spanish authorities initially sought Puigdemont's extradition but later dropped the arrest warrant when it became clear that Belgian authorities could be sending him back but only to be judged for misuse of public funds and no other charges.

The judge has said he's looking to wrap up the investigation before requesting Puigdemont's return.

The former Catalan leader received the most votes among separatist candidates in a recent regional election called by Spanish authorities as a way out of the crisis. He says he wants to be reinstated in his old job as Catalonia's leader.

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Keaten contributed from Geneva, Switzerland.

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