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18th Jun 2018

Germany's Puigdemont release puts Spanish court in bind

  • Last week, supporters of Puigdemont in Barcelona called for his release in a protest (Photo: Assemblea.cat)

The German ruling not to extradite Catalan ex-president Carles Puigdemont to Spain will have major ramifications for the further course of Spain's legal action against the organisers of the independence referendum.

By deciding that Puigdemont cannot be extradited on the charges of 'rebellion' – and to be released on bail on Friday morning – the German court in the state of Schleswig-Holstein on Thursday (5 April) has effectively intervened in the legal affairs of a fellow EU country.

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Puigdemont still can be extradited to Spain under a European arrest warrant, but only on lesser charges of embezzlement – the issue here is whether his government used state funding to organise the referendum, which had been declared illegal beforehand by Spain's highest court.

But Puigdemont is not the only Catalan politician wanted or apprehended by Madrid.

As the Spanish newspaper El Pais pointed out on Friday, the German decision puts Spain's Supreme Court in a bind.

If the court does manage to have Puigdemont extradited to Spain from Germany, it can then only prosecute Puigdemont on the lesser charges.

Moreover, the Supreme Court would find it difficult to argue that other Catalan politicians should be tried for rebellion, if Puigdemont was not.

The newspaper cited an anonymous court source saying that this would be unfair.

"Why should Puigdemont benefit from his escape and the others imprisoned in Spain be charged with not only embezzlement, but also the crime of rebellion?" the source said.

Complaints could also be heard from Madrid about the fact that a German court "equivalent to provincial court" was in charge of the decision – but that is ignoring the fact that unlike Spain, Germany is a federal country, where its 16 states have far-reaching powers.

The Schleswig-Holstein court decided that Puigdemont could not be extradited on the charges of rebellion, because his actions would not be judged similarly in Germany. The German constitution does have the crime of high treason, but because there was no evidence that Puigdemont caused violence, the court argued, this did not apply.

Although the European Union has freedom of movement, much related to legal affairs is still done at the national level – which can lead to conflicting interpretations like in the Puigdemont case.

The Catalan ex-leader fled the Spanish region after the regional parliament declared its independence from Spain, following the referendum marred by police violence but 'won' by the separatists.

Limited flight risk

Several Catalan separatists are facing trial in Spain, while others have left the country in self-imposed exile. Some reside in Scotland, others in Belgium.

On Thursday, Belgian authorities informed three former Catalan ministers - Antoni Comín, Lluís Maria Puig, and Meritxell Serret – of the European arrest warrant against them. They had willingly reported to a court in Brussels for an interrogation, and were released on bail.

Puigdemont meanwhile is expected on Friday morning to be released, if a bail sum of €75,000 is paid. The German court said flight risk was limited after it had decided that extradition on the charges of rebellion had been dismissed.

If the Germans do decide that Puigdemont should be extradited to Spain, he could face up to twelve years in prison over the embezzlement charges.

Catalan separatists mull 'symbolic' presidency

Catalan separatists leaders are discussing a plan that would allow their exiled leader keep influence in the region - even if he cannot be elected president of the government.

Puigdemont ghost hangs over Catalan vote

The Catalan parliament is due to elect the president of the regional government, amid uncertainties over the whereabouts and strategy of the self-exiled separatist leader.

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