Formerly in exile independence leader testifies before Supreme Court
Meritxell Serret returned from Belgium by surprise on March 11 but was not detained upon arrival
The Catalan agriculture minister during the 2017 independence push, Meritxell Serret, testified before Supreme Court on Friday after returning by surprise from a three-and-a-half-year period of living in exile in Belgium.
In court, the former Minister of Agriculture acknowledged receiving "warnings" from the Constitutional Court and to having "taken on the responsibility of the democratic mandate that we had as a government" in the buildup to the October 1, 2017, referendum.
Serret also explained that her administration put forward various "agreements" to go ahead with the vote.
The current MP in the Catalan parliament also told the judge that her department "never assumed any cost related to the referendum."
"Now we will continue with the whole judicial process," she told reporters after her appearance in the Supreme Court, adding that she will continue to work "for a political solution to the conflict."
She explained that she is being prosecuted for misuse of public funds and disobedience and said that her defence team will assess "when and how is the best time" for a transfer of the case to Catalonia.
When she set foot in Spain again, she first appeared before the Supreme Court, which decided to not provisionally detain her pending trial.
She is a party to the 2017 referendum legal case and was initially indicted for misuse of public funds, which could carry a prison sentence, as well as disobedience, which could incur a fine and disqualification from public office, but no time behind bars.
Yet, since the October 2019 verdict of the trial of the officials who remained in the country did not observe any referendum-related expenses coming from Serret's office, it is understood that she will not face a misuse of public funds charge, and therefore, prison time.
Her hearing began at 10:30 am, and some government officials gathered to support her outside the court, including interim president Pere Aragonès, government spokesperson Meritxell Budó, and the current agriculture minister, Teresa Jordà.
Pro-independence MPs of her party, Esquerra, as well as from JxCat and CUP also attended, along with some members of the Basque EH Bildu party.
"The October 1, 2017 referendum was not a crime," Aragonès said to the press outside the court.
MP for Esquerra after exile without international arrest warrant
Serret returned discreetly on March 11, driving past the Basque Country border, and went to the Supreme Court, in Madrid, before going to Catalonia.
"I am here because I maintain my commitment, I want to be an MP and exercise my political rights," she said outside the court that day.
In a statement, Serret added that she aims to "maintain the fight against the repression the independence camp is suffering and in favor of self-determination, doing politics from Catalonia and trying to pave the way for the return of the remaining political exiles."
Indeed, she had been elected a representative in Catalonia's February 14 election, after having been included in Esquerra's list of candidates at the eleventh hour, and is now a senior MP in Parliament.
Serret had been living in Brussels ever since the Catalan parliament declared independence in October 2017.
Unlike other exiled leaders such as Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín, and Clara Ponsatí, a European arrest warrant was not issued for her by Spain in the wake of the Catalan independence referendum trial verdict in October 2019.
She did, however, face two previous extradition attempts, one of which was withdrawn by Spain's Supreme Court in December 2017 to avoid it being rejected by Belgium's courts, while the second was dismissed by Belgium for "formal errors."