February 21, 2018 / 3:23 PM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 2-Spanish Supreme Court orders arrest of former Catalan MP Anna Gabriel

(Adds details, background)

By Raquel Castillo and John Miller

MADRID/ZURICH, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Spain’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of former Catalan member of parliament Anna Gabriel after she failed to appear in court on Wednesday to answer charges related to the region’s independence campaign.

Gabriel, who had moved from Spain to Switzerland at an unknown date, was called to appear in the Supreme Court in Madrid on charges of sedition and rebellion over her alleged part in Catalonia’s illegal independence referendum and subsequent declaration of seccession in October.

On Tuesday, Gabriel said in Geneva that she would not travel to Madrid to face the charges as she did not believe she would have a fair trial. She did not appear for the session scheduled for Wednesday morning.

“I would have never come to Switzerland but the situation has forced me to,” she told Catalan television in an interview on Wednesday. “I would like to think this case will be shelved and I can return home.”

The Catalan independence drive has taken Spain to the brink of its worst political crisis since the transition to democracy in the mid-1970s.

It has divided opinion in Catalonia, caused deep resentment elsewhere in Spain, and prompted thousands of companies based in the wealthy northeastern region to relocate to avoid potential fallout.

The Supreme Court said in a statement it had ordered Gabriel’s arrest following her no-show. But the warrant only extended to Spain and the court did not issue an international arrest warrant.

In Zurich, a Swiss Federal Office of Justice spokesman indicated that any attempt to extradite her could prove difficult. Media reports on Gabriel’s flight from Spain suggested that her alleged offences were political in nature, he said.

The Justice Office said it would not grant extradition or legal assistance for any political offences, based on agreements between non-EU member Switzerland and Spain via the European Convention on Extradition, as well as the European Mutual Assistance Act, among other pacts governing cooperation.

Still, if Switzerland were to receive such a request, the spokesman said, it would review the matter carefully to come to a formal determination of her status.

Several prominent members of the former Catalan government have been arrested and released on bail or are awaiting trial on remand after organising the independence referendum and later making a unilateral declaration of independence.

A court ruled that the attempt to split from Spain was unconstitutional, prompting Madrid to dismiss the Catalan government and take direct control of the region, which already has a large measure of autonomy, before calling a new election.

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont fled the country shortly after the independence declaration and remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels with four members of his previous cabinet. All face similar charges as Gabriel for their part in the independence push.

Following the regional election in December, pro-independence parties continued to hold a narrow majority in the Catalan parliament, though attempts to reinstate Puigdemont as head while he resides abroad have failed. (Additional reporting by Carla Raffin; Writing by Paul Day, Editing by Jesus Aguado and Angus MacSwan)

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