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Spanish court drops international warrant for Puigdemont

Thursday - 19/07/2018 11:53
Decision means former Catalan president and colleagues no longer face extradition threat
Spanish court drops international warrant for Puigdemont
Spanish court drops international warrant for Puigdemont

A Spanish judge has dropped the international arrest warrants issued for former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and five other fugitive pro-sovereignty politicians over their roles in last year’s illegal referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.

Supreme court judge Pablo Llarena announced the decision a week after a German court said it would extradite Puigdemont only over alleged misuse of public funds rather than the more serious charge of rebellion.

The dropping of the international warrant means that Puigdemont and his former colleagues – currently in Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland – no longer face extradition proceedings. However, national arrest warrants remain in force, meaning the six will be arrested should they return to Spain.

In his ruling, published on Thursday, Llarena hit out at the court in Schleswig-Holstein, accusing it of “a lack of commitment” over acts that could have “broken Spain’s constitutional order”. The German court’s refusal to extradite Puigdemont on the rebellion charge – which prosecutors had argued could be equated to “high treason” in the German penal code – meant that the deposed president could not be tried for the offence if sent back to Spain.

International arrest warrants for Puigdemont and four of his former colleagues, then in Belgium, were previously dropped last December after Llarena noticed discrepancies between Spanish and Belgian law that could have limited the extradition charges.

The warrants were reactivated in late March and Puigdemont was arrested by German police two days later as he crossed from Denmark into Germany after visiting Finnish lawmakers in Helsinki.

Among those whose international arrest warrant was dropped on Thursday is the Catalan academic and former regional education minister Clara Ponsatí.

Ponsatí, 61, a professor of economics at St Andrews University, had been fighting extradition in the Scottish courts after judges in Madrid accused her of misusing public funds and rebellion over the referendum last October.

With Ponsatí winning vocal support from Scottish nationalist politicians and campaigners, four weeks of extradition hearings at Edinburgh sheriff court had been scheduled for the next two months. She faced up to 26 years in jail had she been convicted in Madrid.

Her lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said they welcomed news that this arrest warrant had been withdrawn, but were still concerned about the threat Ponsatí could be arrested if she returned to Spain, or face a redrafted extradition request in future.

“We have not received any official confirmation of this so we’re treading cautiously,” Anwar said.

A spokesman for St Andrews university, which had backed Ponsatí’s claims that the case against her was politically motivated, said: “We are delighted for Clara, but will obviously monitor closely the further implications of the decision in Spain.”

Nine Catalan leaders – including Puigdemont’s former vice-president, Oriol Junqueras – remain on remand in Spain, awaiting trial on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. All have now moved from jails near Madrid to Catalan prisons closer to their families.

The Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, met Puigdemont’s successor, Quim Torra, for talks at the beginning of July, signalling a thaw in relations between the central and regional governments.

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