Spain’s state attorney recommends release of jailed Catalan leader


MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s state attorney on Monday recommended the release of Catalan separatist leader Oriol Junqueras from prison in what was widely seen as a gesture of political goodwill as the Socialist Party seeks support to form a government.

The state attorney’s office asked the Supreme Court to let Junqueras go to Brussels to take his seat as a European MP. He was sentenced in October to 13 years in prison over his role in a failed 2017 bid for Catalan independence.

Junqueras was elected to the European Parliament in May while he was awaiting the verdict in his case in jail. The European Union’s top court said this month that Junqueras was entitled to immunity as an EU lawmaker.

The Spanish Supreme Court is expected to give a ruling in coming weeks.

The state attorney’s opinion was widely anticipated as the Socialists are trying to persuade Junqueras’s party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) to back a Socialist-led government.

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and ERC have been meeting regularly since a Nov. 10 election that saw the Socialists emerge as the winner but fall short of a majority in a fragmented parliament.

A rapid coalition deal with the far-left Unidas Podemos party brought their total seat count to 155, still short of the 176 seats needed for a majority. After the Basque nationalist party PNV, with six lawmakers, agreed to back the Socialist-led coalition, the 13 seats held by ERC are crucial.

An ERC spokesman declined to comment on the state attorney’s decision though the party’s leadership is scheduled to meet on Monday afternoon, at the same time as the leaders of the Socialist Party and Unidas Podemos, Pedro Sanchez and Pablo Iglesias, have scheduled a joint press conference.

The Spanish attorney also asked the European Parliament to strip Junqueras of immunity so that the case against him would not be completely dropped, but this would require a difficult-to-achieve consensus among the 700-odd MEPs.

Reporting by Belen Carreno, Inti Landauro and Joan Faus; Editing by Angus MacSwan