Spain investigates minister over events sparking Morocco row

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The former Spanish foreign minister is under investigation over how Western Sahara’s independence leader was allowed to enter Spain for medical treatment, sparking a diplomatic crisis with Morocco, a court said Tuesday.

Madrid’s decision to extend hospital treatment to Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali for a severe case of COVID-19 in April sparked a tetchy standoff with Morocco.

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A month later, some 10,000 migrants surged into Spain’s Ceuta enclave as Moroccan border forces looked the other way in what was widely seen as a punitive move by Rabat.

A court in Zaragoza, the northern city where Ghali arrived, “has decided to summon ex-foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya as part of the judicial investigation into the ‘Ghali affair’,” a court statement said.

“This investigation was opened into the possible commission of a crime of malfeasance,” it said, indicating the aim was to “verify the circumstances of Brahim Ghali’s entry into Spain.”

Spanish media said the court wanted to examine why Ghali was exempted from a passport check upon arrival.

No court date has been set for the former minister, who left the government during a reshuffle in July.

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

He was admitted in critical condition to a hospital in the northern city of Logrono.

But his presence triggered a major diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat, which views Ghali as a war criminal.

The Moroccan authorities demanded a “transparent investigation” into Ghali’s arrival in Spain on what they said was a forged passport.

When Ghali left for Algeria in early June, Madrid said the Polisario leader 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.

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