Ex-Cat­alo­nia leader re­ceives le­gal boost

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

MADRID: A Ger­man court ruled on Thurs­day that Cat­alo­nia’s for­mer leader, Car­les Puigde­mont, can be ex­tra­dited to Spain, but only on fraud charges and not for re­bel­lion, the main charge he faced in Spain af­ter Cat­alo­nia’s botched dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence in 2017.

The de­ci­sion is a set­back for the Span­ish ju­di­ciary, which had hoped the Ger­man court would al­low Mr Puigde­mont to stand trial on a re­bel­lion charge, which car­ries a max­i­mum prison sen­tence of 30 years.

Un­der the lesser charge of cor­rup­tion re­lated to the mis­use of pub­lic money, Mr Puigde­mont could still be sen­tenced to up to two years in prison, but such fi­nan­cial crime sen­tences are nor­mally sus­pended in Spain for first-time of­fend­ers.

Mr Puigde­mont is ac­cused of mis­us­ing pub­lic money to or­gan­ise an il­le­gal in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum on Oct 1, when he was pres­i­dent of the restive re­gion. Two dozen other Cata­lan politi­cians are also fac­ing trial; some are be­ing held in prison, while a hand­ful of oth­ers are fight­ing ex­tra­di­tion.

The Ger­man court’s de­ci­sion is the lat­est twist in a com­pli­cated le­gal bat­tle that gained an in­ter­na­tional di­men­sion in Oc­to­ber, when Mr Puigde­mont fled to Bel­gium to avoid pros­e­cu­tion in Spain, along­side some other mem­bers of his for­mer cab­i­net.

They left shortly af­ter Madrid used emer­gency con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers to oust Mr Puigde­mont’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and place Cat­alo­nia un­der di­rect rule. In March, while trav­el­ling by car from Fin­land to Bel­gium, Mr Puigde­mont was ar­rested by Ger­man po­lice on an in­ter­na­tional ar­rest war­rant is­sued by a Span­ish judge.

In Thurs­day’s rul­ing, the Ger­man High Court of the state of Sch­leswig-Hol­stein also ruled that Mr Puigde­mont did not rep­re­sent a flight risk and there­fore should not be taken into po­lice cus­tody be­fore be­ing sent back to Spain.

No date has been set for ex­tra­di­tion, but it is ex­pected to hap­pen soon, ac­cord­ing to Wiebke Hof­fel­ner, a Sch­leswig-Hol­stein state pros­e­cu­tor.

Mr Puigde­mont could take the dif­fi­cult route of lodg­ing an ap­peal be­fore Ger­many’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court, if his lawyers can con­vince the court that his ba­sic hu­man rights were vi­o­lated. In a state­ment on Thurs­day, Mr Puigde­mont’s lawyers said they were con­sid­er­ing how to pro­ceed.

Pablo Llarena, the Span­ish Supreme Court judge who is pre­sid­ing over the trial against Mr Puigde­mont and other Cata­lan politi­cians, has said that Spain’s ju­di­ciary could take the case to the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice if Ger­many blocked Mr Puigde­mont’s ex­tra­di­tion on the charges sought by Madrid. There was no im­me­di­ate re­sponse from Mr Llarena to the Ger­man de­ci­sion.

The court’s de­ci­sion is in line with a pre­lim­i­nary rul­ing in April, which found that the re­bel­lion charge could not be hon­oured in Ger­many “be­cause ev­i­dence of ‘vi­o­lence’ is not present”. Vi­o­lence is a com­po­nent of the charge in Spain’s le­gal code.

Since then, how­ever, Spain’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape has changed con­sid­er­ably. A So­cial­ist gov­ern­ment took of­fice in Madrid in June, led by Prime Min­is­ter Pe­dro Sanchez. His pre­de­ces­sor, Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, had ve­he­mently op­posed Cat­alo­nia’s sep­a­ratist move­ment, and moved to block an ef­fort to re-elect Mr Puigde­mont as the re­gion’s leader in May.

Mr Sanchez said on Thurs­day that his gov­ern­ment re­spected ju­di­cial de­ci­sions. And al­though he did not weigh in on whether ex­tra­di­tion on the re­bel­lion charge should also have been al­lowed, he said at a news con­fer­ence that Span­ish so­ci­ety “ex­pected the peo­ple in­volved in the events of the se­cond half of 2017 to be judged by Span­ish courts.” He added: “This will hap­pen.”

Writ­ing on Twit­ter, Mr Puigde­mont wel­comed the de­ci­sion by the Ger­man court to strike down “the main lie of the state” by not recog­nis­ing the in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum as an act of re­bel­lion.

And Quim Torra, who leads a sep­a­ratist coali­tion that formed a new Cata­lan re­gional gov­ern­ment in June, called the Ger­man rul­ing “great news”. He added: “To­day the fic­ti­tious nar­ra­tive of the Span­ish state has fallen apart.”

On Mon­day, Mr Torra vis­ited Madrid to meet Mr Sanchez for the first time, an en­counter that both men de­scribed as pos­i­tive.

AFP

Puigde­mont: Ac­cused of mis­us­ing pub­lic money to or­gan­ise a ref­er­en­dum.

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