Location Spain Spain

Spain: Judge drops extradition bids for 6 Catalan fugitives

A Spanish Supreme Court judge on Thursday dropped extradition requests for six politicians wanted on rebellion charges for their roles in promoting independence for Spain’s Catalonia region, including former regional president Carles Puigdemont.

The decision was a major setback for Spain’s legal efforts to crack down on the wealthy Catalan region’s secessionist movement and keeps alive an issue that last year brought Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades.

Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid arrest after the Spanish government removed him and his Cabinet from office at the end of October. He was arrested in Germany in March as he was traveling from Finland to Brussels and is believed to be living in Hamburg.

The Spanish judge withdrew his extradition requests after a German court ruled last week that Puigdemont could not be sent back to Spain for rebellion, only for the lesser charge of embezzlement connected to the alleged misuse of public funds for holding a referendum on secession that a judge had disallowed.

Puigdemont said the decision exposed “huge shortcomings” in the Supreme Court’s legal case against the separatists, including nine who are in Spanish jails awaiting possible trial and whom the separatist movement regards as victims of political persecution.

“Today is a day to demand, with greater fervor than ever, freedom for the political prisoners,” Puigdemont tweeted after Llarena’s decision.

Judge Pablo Llarena was scathing in his assessment of the German court’s decision, describing it as “a lack of commitment” in pursuing the fugitives. Llarena wants Puigdemont and his separatist allies to face charges of rebellion and sedition, as well as misuse of public funds.

If Puigdemont and the others were extradited solely for alleged embezzlement, Spanish prosecutors would be able to put them on trial just on that charge. Rebellion carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years in Spain, while misuse of public funds is punishable by up to 12 years.

Llarena said in a decision published Thursday that he was revoking the international arrest warrants for the six fugitive former officials, a development the Catalan separatist movement took as a victory against Spain’s central authorities.

The first deputy speaker of the regional parliament in Catalonia, Josep Costa, tweeted “Llarena KO”.

Puigdemont’s lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, declared triumph, writing on Twitter: “It looks like we have a memorable summer.”

The charges are in connection with the Catalan regional government’s unauthorized Oct. 1 referendum on independence from Spain and a subsequent unilateral declaration of independence by the separatist-controlled regional parliament.

The declaration won no international recognition, but the standoff between regional powers in the Catalan capital, Barcelona, and national authorities in Madrid put Spain in the international spotlight.

A German court last week said Spain’s rebellion charge was not recognized in Germany and that related German statutes — such as the law against treason — did not apply because Puigdemont’s actions “did not rise to this kind of violence.”

If the six fugitive politicians return to Spain voluntarily, they would still face rebellion and sedition charges.

The other fugitive politicians apart from Puigdemont are Antoni Comin, Meritxell Serret and Lluis Puig, who also fled to Belgium, Clara Ponsati, who is in Scotland, and Marta Rovira, who is believed to be in Switzerland.

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