Home News Spain ex-minister to testify over W.Sahara separatist leader’s stay

Spain ex-minister to testify over W.Sahara separatist leader’s stay

Published on September 27, 2021

A former Spanish minister will testify in court next week over how Western Sahara’s independence leader entered Spain for medical treatment, triggering a major row with Morocco, a court said Monday.

Former foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya will attend a hearing on October 4 in the northern city of Zaragoza where she will be quizzed about the conditions under which Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali entered Spain, the Aragon regional court said.

He was critically ill with Covid-19 when he arrived in Zaragoza in April and was taken for treatment to a hospital in Logrono, sparking a tetchy standoff with Morocco, which views him as a war criminal.

The court said last week it was looking into the “possible commission of a crime of malfeasance” — wrongdoing or misconduct by a public official — with the aim of “verifying the circumstances” of Ghali’s entry into Spain.

Ghali, now 72, had arrived secretly on April 18 aboard a medical aircraft provided by the Algerian presidency, which supports the Saharan independence movement, carrying a diplomatic passport, El Pais daily said.

But he was exempted from a passport check, with Spanish media saying the court wanted to find out why.

Gonzalez Laya was foreign minister at the time but replaced during a government reshuffle in July.

Another former foreign ministry official will testify on the same day, and on October 18, the court will hear from a top interior ministry figure and the head of Spain’s Royal Mint, which issues passports.

Ghali’s presence in Spain triggered a major diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat, with the Moroccan authorities demanding a “transparent investigation” into his arrival on what they said was a forged passport.

In mid-May, more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain’s Ceuta enclave in Morocco, as Moroccan border forces looked the other way in what was widely seen as a punitive move by Rabat.

After Ghali left for Algeria in early June, Madrid insisted he had entered Spain on identity papers in his own name.

The Polisario Front has long fought for the independence of Western Sahara, a desert region bigger than Britain, which was a Spanish colony until 1975.

Morocco controls 80 percent of the territory, while the rest — an area bordering Mauritania that is almost totally landlocked — is run by the Polisario Front.