A German court has decided to extradite former Catalunya regional president Carles Puigdemont for misuse of public funds but has opted not to charge him with ‘rebellion’ as Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena requested.
Puigdemont left for Belgium along with four of his regional ministers after the disputed independence referendum, in order to avoid arrest for their role in organising the vote, and duly attended the nearest police station when a European arrest warrant for them was issued.
This was withdrawn soon after Belgian police released all five pending further investigation, but months later, the same Supreme Court judge reinstated it.
By this time, Puigdemont – still living in Belgium, in a rented villa in Waterloo – was driving home from Helsinki where he had given a conference at the university and had just crossed the Danish border into Germany when he was arrested.
Although released pending his extradition hearing, Puigdemont was banned from leaving Germany until it took place.
The regional court of Schleswig-Holstein said the crime of ‘rebellion’ – for Puigdemont’s having forged ahead with the referendum despite the Spanish Constitution’s outlawing any action which could lead to the ‘fragmentation of Spain’ – did not exist in Germany, and the nearest offence in German law was ‘high treason’.
But ‘high treason’ requires the accused to have personally committed acts of violence, so did not apply.
However, the charges of misuse of public funds – for the cost of the referendum’s being held – has now been considered valid.
The German court rejected Puigdemont’s defence lawyer’s counter-claim of ‘political persecution’, saying it had ‘complete faith’ in the Spanish justice system.
And the Schleswig-Holstein judge has called for him to remain out on bail rather than be remanded in custody since he has complied with court requirements to the letter since he has been in Germany.
This effectively means Spain cannot try Puigdemont for or charge him with ‘rebellion’, ‘sedition’ or ‘disobedience’ as it intended to, as it would be breaking the terms of the extradition agreement issued by Germany.
To this end, Puigdemont’s solicitor says the verdict is ‘good news’.
He is confident of being able to fight the misuse of public funds charge, which normally carries a prison sentence in Spain of between two and six years – or if the amount misused exceeds a quarter of a million euros, up to 12 years.
The cost of the referendum process came to around €1.6 million.
Appealing the ’embezzlement’ charges would need to be through the Supreme Court at first, as this is the highest contentious audience in Spain, although it is unlikely to be successful as it is the Supreme which has applied the charges in the first place.
The next step would be to appeal to the Constitutional Court, the role of which centres entirely on the interpretation of the Spanish Magna Carta.
Doing so would involve arguing Puigdemont’s fundamental human rights had been breached, his solicitor explains.
As yet, the exact date of Puigdemont’s return to Spain has not been confirmed, but he will remain free until this happens.
And he may have more chances of fighting his case now the new socialist government is in power since president Pedro Sánchez has already opened the door to dialogue with the Catalunya separatists.
He and current regional president Quim Torra held a ‘cordial and productive’ meeting earlier this week, which broke through the stalemate created between the former PP-led national government and the Catalunya secessionists.
As a concession, Sánchez has enabled Catalunya politicians in Spanish prisons to be moved to jails in their own region so their families can visit them more easily.
Other Catalunya politicians remain in exile – the CUP’s Anna Gabriel has been granted a five-year resident visa in Switzerland, whilst three other ministers remain in Brussels and ex-education leader Clara Ponsatí has returned to her old job of teaching economics at Edinburgh’s St Andrew’s University.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her party, the SNP, along with many members of the Scottish public are completely behind Dr Ponsatí, although her court hearing has not gone ahead yet and the prosecution has called for her extradition.