Germany will not extradite Carlos Puigdemont on rebellion charge

Former Catalan leader, released on bail, could still face trial for misuse of public funds

A German court has ruled out extraditing former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on the charge of rebellion and agreed to release him from custody on bail.

The regional court of Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany ruled on Thursday that extraditing the former Catalan leader for rebellion is "inadmissible" because the charge's nearest equivalent under the country's laws, high treason, involves the use of violence, which is not applicable in this case.

The court will, however, continue to deliberate on whether to extradite Mr Puigdemont on a charge of misuse of public funds.

The decision is a major blow to the Spanish government and judiciary, given that it appears to rule out his being tried for rebellion, which was the more serious charge. The independence movement has repeatedly insisted that it has not used violence, a claim many in Madrid reject.

Catalonia’s pro-independence parties welcomed the development.

“A new setback for Spanish injustice,” tweeted Sergi Sabrià of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC). “There was never any violence and today the German justice system says so too. The rebellion charge is non-existent.”

Mr Puigdemont was allowed to go free from Neumünster prison after paying €75,000 in bail.

The former Catalan leader fled to Belgium after leading a failed independence drive in October. Last month, he was detained while travelling through Germany by police acting on a European arrest warrant.

A Spanish government statement said that it was “convinced that Spanish justice will adopt the most adequate measures given these new circumstances, to ensure the observance of the laws of our country.”

Police chief charged

Earlier on Thursday, the former chief of the Catalan police force, Josep Lluís Trapero, was charged with sedition and criminal organisation for his alleged role in last autumn’s independence drive.

The high court also charged two Catalan politicians with sedition and criminal organisation: former director general of the Catalan police, Pere Soler, and the former secretary general of the regional interior ministry, César Puig.

According to the charges, the three men “have carried out their activities as members of a complex and diverse organisation, which was united by the aim of achieving the secession of Catalonia and its proclamation as an independent republic, outside the law”.

Meanwhile, the Spanish government has been forced to deny that the arrest in Madrid this week of banking whistleblower Hervé Falciani is linked to Spain's attempts to extradite a Catalan independence leader from Switzerland.

In 2013, Spain rejected a Swiss attempt to extradite Mr Falciani, leading to speculation that his detention on Wednesday suggested a change of heart and was part of a deal to ensure that Switzerland hands over ERC politician Marta Rovira, who fled to that country last month.

When asked about the case, Spanish justice minister Rafael Catalá said that there was no government involvement, adding that “we shouldn’t read any more into it”.

Before his release on Thursday, Mr Puigdemont had proposed that jailed activist Jordi Sànchez should attempt to become Catalan president, despite the fact that the judiciary blocked his previous attempt to be sworn in.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain