Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was detained Sunday in Germany four months after he went into self-imposed exile from Spain, where he faces up to 25 years in prison for organizing an illegal referendum on secession last year.
Puigdemont had entered Germany from Denmark after leaving Finland Friday when it appeared police would arrest him there and begin an extradition process requested by Spain.
In Finland he had managed to avoid arrest and left the Scandinavian country avoiding detainment despite the presence of an active warrant for his arrest in the country.
The detention threatens to worsen the Catalan crisis which flared last year when the region made a symbolic declaration of independence, prompting Madrid to take direct rule.
German police said they had arrested Puigdemont in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on a European arrest warrant issued by Spain.
Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) confirmed Saturday that it had received a European arrest warrant for “a Spanish citizen visiting Finland”, but did not know the person’s whereabouts. “We’ve had no contact with the person himself or his assistants,” NBI criminal inspector, Hannu Kautta, said.
Later in the day Puigdemont's lawyer Jaume Alonso Cuevillas confirmed that his client had left Finland to Belgium and once there he would make "himself available to the Belgian justice and police." Spanish and German press said Sunday that the Catalan leader was being held at a police station in the German northern town of Schuby.
It is not clear if Puigdemont will be immediately extradited from Germany. Puigdemont had made clear his preference to fight the extradition process from Belgium.
The former Catalan regional president was at the time of his detention heading to Belgium, according to Puigdemont's spokesman Joan Maria Pique. "The president was going to Belgium to put himself, as always, at the disposal of Belgian justice," Pique told Reuters.
Puigdemont is wanted by Spain on charges of “rebellion” and “sedition.” On Friday, Spain issued multiple international arrest warrants for five other separatists, including four former ministers who are in Belgium.
Protesters and Spanish police clashed in Catalonia late Friday following Madrid's Supreme Court ruling that 25 Catalan leaders should be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state. The Catalan parliament suspended debates after regional presidential candidate Jordi Turull was also taken into custody during the demonstrations.
Separatist parties have abandoned plans to name a new president following the candidate's arrest, and if a new president is not elected by May 22, new elections will be automatically triggered.
Catalonia will continue to be under the direct rule of Madrid as long as there is no government.