Spanish court gears up for high-stakes trial of separatists

Judges hear from the defense lawyers on Dec. 18, 2018 at the Supreme Court in Madrid during a preliminary hearing ahead of a trial of 18 Catalan separatist leaders. (AFP)
Updated 18 December 2018
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Spanish court gears up for high-stakes trial of separatists

  • Supreme Court judges rejected similar defense appeals during the investigative stage of the case

MADRID: A preliminary hearing in a rebellion case against Catalan separatists Tuesday displayed some of the dynamics between defense and prosecutors expected during a trial that is likely to dominate Spanish politics.
Altogether, 18 former politicians and activists from the Catalonia region are charged with rebellion, sedition, disobedience and misuse of public funds for their parts in an attempt to secede from Spain last year.
At Tuesday's hearing, a panel of seven magistrates heard from defense attorneys who argued the trial should be heard by the top regional court in Catalonia rather than Spain's highest court in Madrid.
Prosecutors countered that Madrid was the proper venue, saying the events that led regional lawmakers to make a unilateral declaration of independence on Oct. 27, 2017 had ramifications outside of Catalonia.
The country's top court also has jurisdiction, prosecutors argued, because the secession attempt affected all Spaniards.
Supreme Court judges rejected similar defense appeals during the investigative stage of the case. A final decision is expected later this week.
If the top court keeps the case, former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, activist-turned-politician Jordi Sanchez and 16 other defendants are expected to appear there when the trial proceedings get underway at the end of January.
Four defendants are three weeks into a prison hunger strike to protest what they deem unfair treatment by Spain's judiciary. Central government authorities say there is no reason for the strike and the defendants' rights are guaranteed by Spain's independent judiciary.
The "trial of the century," as it's been labeled by domestic media, has taken a high political significance. Separatists in the northeastern region have made clear that they will use proceedings to prove that they are being tried for their ideas, and in particular for advancing a secessionist agenda.
In addition to prosecutors and state attorneys, a far-right party that has recently emerged in Spanish politics sits on the prosecution bench. Vox wants to use the trial to showcase its hard stance against nationalism and its defense of Spanish unity ahead of European and local elections in May next year.


Trump fan to plead guilty to 2018 package bombs

Updated 30 min 18 sec ago
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Trump fan to plead guilty to 2018 package bombs

  • The package bombs’ intended recipients included billionaire philanthropist George Soros, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama
  • Cesar Sayoc’s criminal record dates back to 1991

NEW YORK: A fan of US President Donald Trump who mailed parcel bombs to prominent Democratic figures last October was set to appear in court Thursday, where he was expected to plead guilty to some of the 30 charges against him.
Cesar Sayoc, 57, who was arrested in Florida on October 26 following a massive manhunt, was due in federal court in New York at 4:00 p.m.
Although it was not known which charges he would plead guilty to, all relate to the 16 package bombs he is accused of mailing from a Florida post office to several well-known people who oppose Trump, as well as the Manhattan offices of CNN. He previously pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The packages’ intended recipients included billionaire philanthropist George Soros, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama, former vice president Joe Biden, actor Robert De Niro and several Democratic lawmakers, including 2020 presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
None of the packages exploded or even reached their targets and authorities questioned the actual danger they posed.
But by targeting Democrats, Sayoc — who also goes by the alias Cesar Altieri and was identified by DNA recovered from the packages — helped contribute to heightened tensions during the US midterm election campaign season.
Sayoc’s partial guilty plea Thursday could help mitigate the severity of a sentence if he is convicted on all counts.
As his trial loomed, information from Sayoc’s past began to filter into the public sphere, fueling the debate about extremism in the age of Trump and social media — a debate that grew more urgent as 11 people were shot dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue later in October.
Estranged from his family and in financial distress, Sayoc lived in a white van plastered in stickers proclaiming his admiration for the US president.
His criminal record dates back to 1991, peppered with convictions for theft, fraud, violence and a threat to bomb his electric utility company.
A former strip club manager and an adept bodybuilder and martial arts practitioner, Sayoc discovered a passion for Trump just as his political star was rising.
His social media posts took a politically radical turn: he’s seen wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, sharing pro-Trump images and posting articles from ultra-conservative and conspiracy-driven websites such as Infowars and Breitbart.
“He was very angry and angry at the world, at blacks, Jews, gays,” recalled Debra Gureghian, the general manager of a Florida pizzeria where Sayoc worked as a delivery driver for several months.
Lawyer Ron Lowy, who defended Sayoc in 2002 and remained close to his family, described him on NPR in October as someone whose “intellect is limited, and who is “like a little boy in a man’s body.”