Wednesday 17 October 2018

Judge confirms Catalonia ex-leader detention in Germany

Germany Spain Catalonia
Germany Spain Catalonia

Geir Moulson and Volkmar Kienoel

Spain's showdown with Catalonia's separatist leaders has moved to German courts as the region's former president Carles Puigdemont embarked on what could be a weeks-long effort to avoid extradition from Germany.

A court in the northern town of Neumuenster ruled that Puigdemont, who was arrested on Sunday in Germany, has to remain in custody for the length of the extradition proceedings.

The court said the formal requirements to detain Puigdemont had been met by a European arrest warrant issued by Spain.

In denying him bail, the court said Puigdemont posed a flight risk, concluding he had "a strong incentive" to try to travel to Belgium where his chances of avoiding extradition might be greater.

Schleswig Holstein state prosecutor Georg Guentge said the former Catalan leader appeared "calm and composed" during Monday's hearing, at times making legal arguments on his own behalf.

Mr Guentge said Puigdemont can challenge the legal basis for Spain's extradition request during the formal proceedings, which will take place before the upper court in nearby Schleswig.

He said it is not clear whether a decision on the extradition request will happen this week and in the meantime Puigdemont will remain at the prison in Neumuenster.

With tensions flaring back home, Spain's government said Puigdemont's arrest at a highway rest area south of the German-Danish border during an attempt to drive from Finland to Belgium shows that "nobody can infinitely mock justice".

Tens of thousands of people protested late on Sunday in Barcelona and other Catalan towns, and some demonstrators clashed with riot police.

Spanish authorities accuse Puigdemont, 55, of rebellion and misuse of public funds in organising an unauthorised referendum last year on independence for Catalonia.

German officials have stressed that the case is a matter for the judicial system, but declined to say whether the German government could ultimately overrule a court decision.

European rules call for a final decision on extradition within 60 days of the suspect's arrest, although a 30-day extension is possible, Justice Ministry spokeswoman Stephanie Krueger said.

Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in four decades when Puigdemont's government flouted a court ban and held an ad-hoc referendum on independence for the north-eastern region in October.

The Catalan parliament's subsequent declaration of independence received no international recognition and provoked a takeover of the regional government by Spanish authorities.

Spain originally asked for Puigdemont's extradition from Belgium after he fled there in October, but later withdrew the request until Spanish Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena concluded his investigation last week.

In the meantime, Puigdemont was free to make trips to Denmark, Switzerland and Finland, in an effort to gain international support for the secessionist movement.

The international arrest warrant for Puigdemont was reactivated on Friday while he was visiting Finland. Spain has also issued five warrants for other separatists who fled the country.

Authorities examining a European arrest warrant must determine whether the offence a suspect is accused of committing is equivalent to a criminal offence in the country where he was arrested.

Germany's criminal code - unlike Belgium's - includes an offence that appears to be comparable to rebellion, the main accusation against Puigdemont.

It calls for prison sentences for anyone who "undertakes, by force or through threat of force" to undermine the republic's existence or change its constitutional order.

Puigdemont and other Catalan separatists argue that their movement has been entirely peaceful.

Separatists condemned Sunday's street violence in Catalonia that led to 100 people, including 23 police agents, being treated for minor injuries.

Press Association

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