German prosecutor seeks Carles Puigdemont extradition

German court now has to decide whether to act on arrest warrant issued by Spain

Carles Puigdemont's lawyer Paul Bekaert says German police are holding the fugitive Catalan leader on a European arrest warrant. Video: Reuters


Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s return to face Spanish courts moved one step closer on Tuesday when German state prosecutors asked a court to permit his return.

More than a week after Mr Puigdemont was detained near the Danish border, a German court now has to decide whether to act on a European Arrest Warrant (EWA) issued by Spain.

Mr Puigdemont had been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium for five months since an October referendum and declaration of independence, which was viewed as illegal by Madrid. He was arrested nine days ago after crossing the Danish border on a road trip from Helsinki to Brussels.

Spain is seeking his return on three charges: rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds to run the referendum campaign – charges that carry a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.

The Schleswig-Holstein state prosecutor said on Tuesday that after “intense” study of the warrant from Madrid it found that rebellion and embezzlement charges had equivalents in German law. They also recommended Mr Puigdemont remain in prison in Neumünster, an hour north of Hamburg, as he represents a flight risk.

Now it falls to the higher regional court in Schleswig to decide whether to act on the prosecutor’s recommendation. In addition it will rule on whether the transfer in itself is legal, in particular whether mutual trust exists with the Spanish judiciary – the basis of EWA procedure.

“At the moment, it is too early to say when a decision . . . on the application for the extradition arrest warrant may be expected,” the court said in a statement.

Any final decision by the three-judge court can be appealed by Mr Puigdemont to Germany’s constitutional court. His legal team have urged the German government to intervene in the case and have filed an appeal against the charges. They take issue with the misuse of funds charge and that of rebellion, saying there were only isolated incidents of violence around the October referendum.

Germany’s federal government has said it will not intervene in what it views as an internal Spanish matter, nor will it get involved in the judicial process in Schleswig-Holstein.

‘More authoritarian’

At the weekend Mr Puigdemont told supporters from his prison cell that he would not give up nor be cowed in his battle with Madrid, which he accuses of becoming “more and more authoritarian”.

“We have to go on, we have to go on the way we are, defending our rights, rights that are recognised by the UN as we have a total right to decide our future,” he said.

“Let’s go on doing things the way we do them, which is non-violent and civilised as we have shown the world in the past years. That is how Catalans do things.”

Mr Puigdemont has said he is being treated well in his German prison and is allowed make phone calls and participated in supervised video conferences.

A weekend march in Berlin drew up to 500 people, according to organisers, protesting against the detention of Mr Puigdemont and two dozen other Catalan leaders. Five separatist leaders in prison in Spain say they cannot get a fair trial.

German opposition parties have urged EU mediation in the long-running feud, accusing the Spanish courts of being biased against the Catalan separatists.

“The Spanish judicial system has obviously cobbled together a politically motivated charge in accusing Puigdemont of misusing state funds for carrying out the referendum,” said Sevim Dagdelen of the Left Party. “The Catalonian conflict should be solved politically instead of further criminalising those involved in it.”