Serret leaves exile and appears before the Supreme Court
The court leaves her free until a next court summons
MadridUnexpected changed of tack by Catalan political exiles. This Thursday morning the former minister of Agriculture Meritxell Serret has returned to take her seat in the Catalan Parliament and regularise her situation before the Supreme Court. Exiled in Belgium since the declaration of independence in 2017, Serret has appeared before the high court accompanied by her lawyer to make herself available to the investigating judge, Pablo Llarena. The magistrate - through a judicial secretary - has decided to summon her on April 8 for questioning and has allowed her to be released in the meantime. At 6pm she is expected to arrive at her village, Vallfogona de Balaguer, where ERC has already convened a welcome rally in which she will be joined by Speaker Roger Torrent and the ministers Bernat Solé and Teresa Jordà.
After spending a few hours in court buildings, Serret was released without bail, although she will have to be available for judicial summons. The ex minister has left the Supreme Court among the applause of ERC, JxCat, the CUP, PDECat and EH Bildu members of the Spanish parliament, who went to welcome her. At her exit, Serret pointed out that she is "happy" and that she maintains "her commitment" to continue moving towards a "democratic resolution" and to end "the repression of independence". She added that she is looking forward to finishing the journey to reach her people and be reunited with her family.
On the decision to return, Serret said that all exiles have always maintained this "desire", but now the time had come after a year without a European arrest warrant against her. Sources from the defence do not want to anticipate any outcome but are working on the idea of requesting the case to be transferred to Catalonia, as was done in the cases of the members of the Parliamentary Bureau and CUP former MP Mireia Boya.
Serret has been prosecuted for embezzlement and disobedience since March 2018. The accusations are the same as those against former ministers Carles Mundó, Meritxell Borràs and Santi Vila, who chose to stay in Spain and go to trial. Finally, they were only convicted of disobedience. In addition, other former ministers who were convicted of sedition were acquitted of embezzlement, as is the case of Josep Rull and Joaquim Forn. "The current state of the investigation so far does not reflect concrete expenses effectively supported by the department which she led" explains the Supreme Court's order, which recalls that no euro-order had been processed against her after the Independence process trial. On the other hand, an arrest warrant was still in force in Spain and has now been annulled.
In a statement, Esquerra explained that Serret has returned to Catalonia with the aim of continuing "the political struggle against repression and in favour of self-determination", doing politics from Catalonia and trying "to open the way for the rest of political exiles". In the same statement, the former minister defends that the decision she has taken "was very meditated" and believes that it is "the right decision and the logical step" in her struggle to "put an end to the repression against the independence [movement] of the Spanish state". Serret's return comes two days after the European Parliament lifted Junts MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí's immunity, who to defend themselves had argued that in Spain they would not have a fair trial.
"I am convinced that by taking these risks we are paving the way for all comrades who are in my situation," Serret said. The Republicans defend that, "although individual", Serret's decision "will have collective political implications and will contribute to clarify, facilitate and reverse the judicial process against the hundreds of people affected by the general cause against the independence movement". According to sources close to the former minister, Serret left Brussels on Tuesday by car and entered Spain on Wednesday at dusk.
Serret's companion in exile, Lluís Puig, was not aware of her plans. In statements to ACN, he was "very surprised" with the news. "I hope it serves her goal," she said. The former ministers of Culture denies that the return affects the strategy of pro-independence exiles: "There were 5 of us (in Belgium) and now there are 4". Puig has explained that although Serret has not shared the strategy with him, "she insinuated that she wanted to look for a formula to return". The procedural situation is different between the two - he recalled - because against him there was a euro-order to extradite him for embezzlement and disobedience. Against Puig now there is no European arrest warrant - pending what Llarena decides once the preliminary question raised to the CJEU is resolved - and neither against the former CUP deputy Anna Gabriel, prosecuted only for disobedience.
The news also caused surprise at the Generalitat's delegation in Brussels. On Monday Serret attended the demonstration called to support Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí coinciding with the vote on lifting their immunity. That same day she said goodbye to the workers of the delegation, who did not expect her to leave. On Thursday and Friday she had cancelled meetings but had said she was not feeling well, so she kept it under the utmost discretion, reports Júlia Manresa.
The act of deputy in Parliament
Following the precedents of Mundó, Borràs and Villa, Serret might be looking at a conviction for disobedience, which entails disqualification from public office for up to two years. Even so, a date has to be set a date for the trial. Serret also intends to appear on Friday at the constituent session of the Parliament and exercise her rights as a deputy, since until there is no conviction she will not be disqualified. "I will continue working for the Catalan Republic, now from Parliament, and defending rights and democracy before the courts, not only my political rights, nor those of pro-independence supporters, but those of all Catalans, who are permanently threatened by this demophobic state."
The return of Serret has been received with joy by the leaders of ERC. The party's president, Oriol Junqueras, has celebrated the arrival via Twitter: "What a desire to embrace you, dear Meritxell Serret! We will put an end to the repression against independence," he said
The MEP of Junts per Catalunya and Serret's partner in exile, the ex minister Toni Comín, also showed his delight. "Happy that you have been able to return home," he said, adding that "if anyone can imagine" how the former minister feels now it is himself.