Spanish judge scraps arrest warrants for Carles Puigdemont and his separatist colleagues
A Spanish judge on Thursday dropped European and international arrest warrants for deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and other separatist leaders who fled abroad, meaning they no longer face detention or extradition.
This is the second time that Pablo Llarena of the Supreme Court has withdrawn such warrants over doubts whether other European countries would recognise the serious charge of rebellion levelled against prominent Catalans who were involved in a failed secession attempt last October.
In December, he had dropped European warrants against Puigdemont and other former members of Catalonia’s separatist executive, arguing Belgium – where they had fled to – could potentially reject some of the charges in the warrant.
Llarena re-activated the arrest warrants in March.
In his court ruling, Llarena said he had taken the decision after a German court agreed to extradite Puigdemont earlier this month, but only for misuse of public funds and not rebellion.
This means that Puigdemont, who was in Germany awaiting extradition proceedings, and five other Catalans who are scattered in Scotland, Belgium and Switzerland, are now free to move from country to country.
The Spanish arrest warrant, however, remains open which means they will be detained if they try to come back. In a tweet, Puigdemont said the drop of the warrants "demonstrates the huge weakness of the court case."
Puigdemont is one of 13 separatist leaders accused of rebellion over their role in Catalonia’s failed secession bid.
Nine are in custody in Spain awaiting trial.
Of those currently abroad, Puigdemont and three others are charged with rebellion and other lesser offences like misuse of public funds.
The remaining two have only been charged with disobedience and misuse of public funds, but not rebellion.
In its decision on Puigdemont’s extradition, the German court argued that the closest legal equivalent to rebellion, high treason, did not apply because his actions last autumn were not accompanied by violence.
The decision meant that if he were to be extradited, Spain would only be able to try him on charges approved in the extradition order – not rebellion.
This in turn could have seen those jailed in Spain argue they too should not be tried on rebellion charges, which carry up to 25 years in jail, in what would have been a setback for Madrid.
In his ruling, Llarena blasted the German court’s decision, arguing it should have analysed the acts as they took place, from the referendum on October 1 that went ahead despite a court ban and was marred by police violence, to a failed declaration of independence on October 27.
He argued that the court should have merely evaluated whether the "incidents laid out by the Spanish jurisdiction" would have been prosecuted in a similar way in Germany if they had happened there, rather than look at the legal equivalent to rebellion.
But even in Spain, the rebellion charge had drawn controversy.
Rebellion is defined as "rising up in a violent and public manner," to among other things "breach, suspend or change the constitution" or "declare independence for part of the (Spanish) territory".
Military officers behind a 1981 attempted coup in Spain, for instance, were found guilty of rebellion.
But critics point out there was no violence during the independence drive, bar that of the police on the day of the referendum.
Llarena counters there was, pointing to two events in particular.
One was a protest on September 20 in Barcelona in front of a government building that police were searching before the referendum.
Some police cars were damaged and the agents themselves blocked from leaving the building for hours.
The other was separatists’ resistance to police as these were trying to empty polling stations used for the referendum.
"The resolution in Germany means that in democratic systems the acts that the Supreme Court accuses them of don’t hold up," Gonzalo Boye, one of Puigdemont’s lawyers, told AFP, adding he was "very satisfied" with the drop of the warrants.