Spain’s Attorney General, Leading Catalan Prosecution, Falls Ill and Dies
Spain’s attorney general, José Manuel Maza, who was leading the prosecution of the separatist Catalan leaders, died on Saturday while in Argentina to attend an international law conference.
Mr. Maza, 66, died in a Buenos Aires hospital, shortly after saying he felt unwell. His death was confirmed by Spain’s justice minister, Rafael Catalá, and attributed to a kidney infection.
The sudden death of Mr. Maza deprives Spain of its top prosecutor as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is working to halt a secessionist movement in Catalonia and to get Spain’s judiciary to prosecute separatist leaders for illegally declaring the region’s independence.
Late last month, Mr. Maza began the prosecution of 20 Catalan politicians, including the region’s former leader, Carles Puigdemont. Mr. Maza said that they should stand trial for rebellion and sedition, as well as the misuse of public funds to organize an independence referendum.
The vote, on Oct. 1, was declared illegal by the Spanish government and courts. If found guilty of rebellion, the separatist leaders could face up to 30 years in prison.
Mr. Maza was nominated as attorney general by Mr. Rajoy’s government just a year ago. The government will choose a replacement who will undergo a parliamentary review in a process expected to take at least three weeks.
Until that is completed, Luis Navajas, a prosecutor before the Supreme Court, was expected to act as interim attorney general.
Mr. Maza was known as a conservative who put himself on the front line in the fight against Catalan secessionism. In September, he warned Mr. Puigdemont in a radio interview that the Catalan leader could be detained if he pushed ahead with his separatist plans.
On Oct. 27, Spain’s government took administrative control of Catalonia, ousting Mr. Puigdemont and his regional government, after separatist lawmakers voted for Catalonia’s independence in their regional Parliament, in violation of Spain’s Constitution.
A few days later, Mr. Puigdemont and members of his former cabinet arrived in Brussels, where they have been fighting against an international arrest warrant issued by Spain, asserting that Madrid could not guarantee a fair trial.
A criminal court judge ordered eight of the Catalan politicians, who appeared in court in Madrid to be jailed without bail, pending a full trial. Separately, another judge from the Supreme Court granted bail this month to five other Catalan lawmakers awaiting trial on rebellion charges.
Another two separatist leaders have been jailed since mid-October as part of an earlier prosecution led by Mr. Maza; their jailing had been prompted by their involvement in a street protest in Barcelona that left Spanish police officers trapped for several hours inside a government building.
Mr. Rajoy paid homage to Mr. Maza for what he called in a post on Twitter “a life of work at the service of the state.”
In an opinion piece , Mr. Catalá, the justice minister, said that Mr. Maza had been “a man aware of the enormous treasure that we have as Spaniards, our Constitution.”