Sacked Catalan leader asks to return to Spain ‘risk-free’

Catalonia’s sacked president Carles Puigdemont speaks during a press conference after a meeting with Danish MPs for talks about the Catalan crisis and Denmark’s handling of its autonomous territories Greenland and the Faroe Islands, on January 23, 2018 at Christiansborg Palace in the heart of Copenhagen, home to the Danish Parliament. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2018
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Sacked Catalan leader asks to return to Spain ‘risk-free’

COPENHAGEN: Catalonia’s ousted leader Carles Puigdemont asked Tuesday to return to Spain “without any risk” of being detained for his role in the independence drive despite Madrid warning he would not be let in “even in the boot of a car.”
Speaking from Copenhagen on his first trip from Belgium where he now lives in self-exile, he said: “My intention in the coming days is to contribute to restoring democracy in order to respect election results.”
Fresh from a victory in December elections that saw separatist parties win an absolute majority led by his Together for Catalonia grouping, Puigdemont has been formally designated by the Catalan parliamentary speaker — another separatist — as the candidate to lead the region again.
But he has to figure out how he can be officially voted in at a parliamentary session due by the end of the month.
Parliamentary legal experts say he must be physically present at the session and Madrid has warned it will move to block any attempt by him to govern remotely, but if he returns to Spain he faces prison on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
“What better sign would there be to restore democracy than being able to come back without any risk to attend the parliamentary debate?” Puigdemont asked of the session that will see lawmakers vote for or against him.
He called on “everyone to make this possible, starting with the Spanish authorities.”
But his request is likely to fall on deaf ears, with Spain’s Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido announcing hours earlier that authorities were “taking steps along the border and inside the country, everywhere, to see that that does not happen.
“We are doing it in such a way that he cannot enter (the Catalan parliament) even in the boot of a car,” Zoido told Spanish television.
Puigdemont went to Belgium at the end of October after the Catalan parliament declared independence.
This was short-lived, however, as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy moved to stop the secession crisis in a region deeply divided over independence.
He imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region, sacked its government, dissolved its parliament and called snap elections.
Several days later, separatist leaders were charged for their attempt to break from Spain via a banned independence referendum, but by then Puigdemont and several of his former ministers were already in Belgium.
The plebiscite, which went ahead in October despite a court ban, prompted a brutal police crackdown.
Other leaders who remained in Spain such as former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras were jailed pending an investigation.
On Wednesday, Puigdemont is due to meet with the Catalan parliamentary speaker in Brussels to discuss how he can be voted in.
Separatists are looking into having him attend virtually via videolink, although Puigdemont has not ruled out returning to Catalonia.
Puigdemont was invited to Denmark by Magni Arge, an MP for the Faroese separatist party Tjodveld (Republicans) who served as an observer for the Catalan referendum.
During a seminar on the Catalan crisis at the University of Copenhagen on Monday, Puigdemont hailed Denmark’s policy toward its former colonies Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
They have since 1950 gradually been granted more sovereignty in their bids for full independence.
“It’s not easy I know, but you’re proof that it’s possible,” Puigdemont said.
Greenland MP and former prime minister Aleqa Hammond was among the participants.
However, representatives of the parties that make up Denmark’s center-right government coalition declined to attend, as did those from the country’s two biggest parties, the Social Democrats and the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party.


Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen providing info in Mueller probe

Updated 55 sec ago
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Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen providing info in Mueller probe

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer claimed Thursday he is providing “critical information” as part special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance and other charges last month, said he is providing the information to prosecutors without a cooperation agreement.
Trump’s longtime fixer-turned-foe could be a vital witness for prosecutors as they investigate whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russians. For more than a decade, Cohen was Trump’s personal lawyer, and he was a key power player in the Trump Organization and a fixture in Trump’s political life.
Cohen pleaded guilty in August to eight federal charges and said Trump directed him to arrange payments before the 2016 election to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model who had both alleged they had affairs with Trump. It was the first time any Trump associate implicated Trump himself in a crime, though whether — or when — a president can be prosecuted remains a matter of legal dispute.
On Thursday night, Cohen tweeted: “Good for @MichaelCohen212 for providing critical information to the #MuellerInvestigation without a cooperation agreement. No one should question his integrity, veracity or loyalty to his family and country over @POTUS @realDonaldTrump.”
The tweet was deleted almost immediately and was later reposted by his attorney, Lanny Davis, who said he wrote the tweet for Cohen and asked him to tweet it because he has a “much larger following.” Davis said he was delayed posting the tweet on his own account, so Cohen tweeted it first.
ABC News reported earlier Thursday that Cohen has met several times — for several hours — with investigators from the special counsel’s office.
The television network, citing sources familiar with the matter, said he was questioned about Trump’s dealings with Russia, including whether members of the Trump campaign worked with Russians to try to influence the outcome of the election.
Davis had asserted last month that his client could tell the special counsel that Trump had prior knowledge of a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, Trump’s son-in-law and Trump’s eldest son, who had been told in emails that it was part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign. But Davis later walked back the assertions, saying he could not independently confirm the claims that Cohen witnessed Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., telling his father about the Trump Tower meeting beforehand.
In the last two weeks, the special counsel secured the cooperation of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; signaled that he has obtained all the information he needs from former national security adviser Michael Flynn — who was also a government cooperator; and dispensed with the case of the campaign aide who triggered the Russia probe.
The president has continued a very public battle against the Mueller investigation, repeatedly calling it a politically motivated and “rigged witch hunt.” He has said he is going to declassify secret documents in the Russia investigation, an extraordinary move that he says will show that the investigation was tainted from the start by bias in the Justice Department and FBI.