Belgian authorities have declined to extradite the three remaining Catalunya regional ministers in exile in the northern European country, saying no such ‘crime’ exists in national law as the one the Spanish Supreme Court wants to try them for.
Toni Comín, Meritxell Serret (pictured on the court steps) and Lluís Puig fled to Brussels in October along with deposed president Carles Puigdemont and regional education minister Clara Ponsatí, and duly attended the police station when an international arrest warrant was issued from Spain.
This was later dropped but has been revived in the last month, leading to Puigdemont’s being arrested in Germany as he drove home from a conference in Helsinki.
Sra Ponsatí later went to Edinburgh to take up her old job of professor of economics at St Andrew’s University, and so far, Scottish authorities have no plans to extradite her.
All five are charged with ‘rebellion’ for their role in holding the disputed independence referendum – an offence that does not exist in Belgium, Germany or Scotland.
They are also charged by the Spanish Supreme Court of misuse of public funds for the cost of the referendum, and Germany is still considering whether this should apply to Puigdemont.
Belgium’s decision not to extradite the three who remain in the country is based upon a precedent set by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), during the case of Bob Dogi, a Romanian lorry driver facing extradition to Hungary.
The country he was based in when the European arrest warrant was issued called for further information as to why he should be extradited, but this information was considered insufficient, giving the country in question the right to refuse point-blank to send him to Hungary.
Also, the fact that the original arrest warrant against the Catalunya ministers was cancelled means that, according to Belgian law, the second warrant was not valid as it related to offences listed in the first rather than new charges.
The decision is open to appeal, but as the Belgian prosecution does not agree the ministers should be extradited, this is unlikely to happen.
According to the Catalunya ministers’ solicitor Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena could issue yet another European arrest warrant, but this would be ‘unprecedented’ and ‘ridiculous’.