Spain clears former minister in row over W.Sahara separatist chief
A Spanish court has cleared former foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya of wrongdoing over the arrival in Spain last year of a Western Sahara independence leader for medical treatment, a court document showed on Friday.
Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali was critically ill with Covid-19 when he flew into the northern city of Zaragoza in April and was taken for treatment to a hospital in Logrono.
Morocco controls most of the Western Sahara, and the incident sparked a major diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat, which was only resolved in March after Spain shifted its policy and backed Morocco’s autonomy proposal for the region.
A court in Zaragoza opened a probe in September into Ghali’s arrival amid reports he was exempted from a passport check.
It said it was looking into the “possible commission of a crime of malfeasance” — wrongdoing or misconduct by a public official — on the part of Gonzalez Laya, who was foreign minister when Ghali arrived. She was replaced during a cabinet reshuffle in July.
However, the court has now decided to shelve the probe, saying it was “indisputable” that Ghali entered Spain “without submitting to border controls”, and that Gonzalez Laya “took an active part in the preparations” for his arrival.
Nevertheless, it said allowing Ghali to “enter secretly (in Spain) so as not to affect our relations with other countries falls withing the framework of foreign relations”.
Gonzalez Laya told news radio Cadena Ser she was “satisfied” with the court ruling and reiterated that Ghali’s entry “was made for humanitarian reasons and withing the framework of the law”.
Rabat had expressed its “exasperation” over Ghali’s “irregular” entry into Spain.
The diplomatic crisis peaked in mid-May 2021 when more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta as Moroccan border forces looked the other way in what was widely seen as a punitive move by Rabat.