Arrests in Spain over alleged illegal financing of former Catalan president’s life in exile

Spanish police arrested a dozen influential Catalan businessmen as part of an investigation into allegations that public funds have been misused to pay the expenses of former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont in Belgium, where he fled following a failed separatist bid in 2017.

The investigation, which started a year and a half ago and is being led by a prosecutor based in Barcelona, aims to clarify whether the campaign leading up to the illegal secession referendum and Puigdemont’s subsequent living expenses in Belgium were funded by diverting public funds from the local body tasked with the administration of the province of Barcelona. Those funds were originally targeted at organizations working on international cooperation.

Those arrested by the Guardia Civil on Wednesday morning on suspicion of misuse of public funds and money laundering have close links to the pro-independence ruling parties of Catalonia, Together for Catalonia and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), according to the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia.

The list includes Xavier Vendrell, a former member of the Catalan government and ex-member of the dissolved terrorist group Terra Lliure; Oriol Soler, an influential media businessman; David Madí, former spokesperson for a previous Catalan government led by Artur Mas; and historian Josep Lluís Alay, who serves as head of Puigdemont’s office in Barcelona. More arrests are expected to follow later today.

The Guardia Civil is carrying out searches in homes and offices in a number of Catalan towns, including Barcelona, Gerona, Sant Quirze del Vallès, Sant Joan Despí, Vilafranca del Penedès, Cabrera de Mar, Igualada, and Montcada i Reixac.

Puigdemont, now an MEP, tweeted: “They are trying the political and civilian death of the independence movement, because three years after the declaration of independence we continue to fight for a fair cause.”

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