Puigdemont to appear in German court to decide on extradition to Spain

A view of the 'Justizvollzugsanstalt (JVA) Neumunester' prison, where the former Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, is detained in Neumuenster, Germany, 26 March 2018.

Puigdemont to appear in German court to decide on extradition to Spain


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Former and fugitive Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is due to appear before German judges at the prosecutor’s office on Monday to decide if he will be retained in police custody, or if he remains on probation before being returned to Spain.

Puigdemont was detained in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein on Sunday, five months after going into self-imposed exile from Spain, where he faces charges of sedition, rebellion and embezzlement which could lead to 25 years in prison.

Puigdemont had entered Germany from Denmark after on Friday leaving Finland, where he had attended a conference.

Another German court, the Higher Regional Court in the town of Schleswig, will be responsible for deciding whether to grant Spain’s extradition request. German prosecutors have said the whole legal process, including possible appeals, could take several days if not weeks.

If convicted Mr Puigdemont faces up to 25 years in prison in Spain on charges of rebellion and sedition for organising the referendum, which led to a unilateral declaration of independence in October.
A demonstration in Barcelona against his arrest by tens of thousands of Catalans tipped over into clashes on Sunday night.

Outside the central government offices in the Catalan capital, riot police beat flag-waving protesters back with batons, leaving several with blood streaming down their foreheads. Three protesters were arrested and 50 suffered minor injuries, police said.

Spain’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that 25 Catalan leaders, including Puigdemont, would be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state relating a referendum held in Catalonia last October which called for the wealthy northeastern region to separate from Spain.

The Madrid government deemed the referendum, which was widely boycotted by opponents of independence, illegal and took over direct rule of Catalonia following a symbolic declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament.

The court has also reactivated international arrest warrants for four other politicians who went into self-imposed exile last year. Puigdemont and fellow separatists have all denied any wrongdoing.

It ordered five separatist leaders, including the latest candidate to become regional president, Jordi Turull, to be jailed pending their trial.

The Madrid government’s forceful legal moves deal a potentially fatal blow to the independence movement and signal an end to one of the country’s worst political crises since the return of democracy four decades ago, although separatist sympathies are likely to simmer.

Puigdemont, who has been living in Brussels since leaving Spain, does not plan to apply for political asylum in Germany, his lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas told Catalan radio on Monday.

The 55-year-old former journalist is unlikely to find much support among German politicians who have largely backed Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s crackdown on Catalan separatism.

In comments published on Monday, Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament and close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, said that Puigdemont had “clearly violated Spanish law and the Spanish constitution”.

“He would be well advised to end the matter peacefully,” Brok told regional newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.

Brok said that the quest of the Catalans for independence was hopeless and that Madrid and Barcelona should instead start negotiations about an improved autonomous status.

European governments, some of whom face separatist movements of their own, have generally been supportive of the Spanish government.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish government, which advocates independence from the United Kingdom, said it would co-operate with Madrid over a request to extradite former Catalan education minister Clara Ponsati.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that it nevertheless supported “the right of the people of Catalonia to determine their own future”.

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