Catalonia’s Puigdemont set for bail in Germany
Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont is set to walk out of a German jail on Friday, after judges refused his extradition to Spain for alleged rebellion and ordered him freed on bail pending a ruling on a lesser corruption charge.
Madrid wants to extradite Puigdemont, 55, the former president of Catalonia, back to Spain to face trial over his role in the region’s failed bid to make itself independent from Spain.
Puigdemont’s lawyers told reporters they expected him to leave the prison in the northern German town of Neumuenster shortly after midday, after posting bail of 75,000 euros ($92,000).
“We must look to the future with hope and optimism because we have the right, we have the right not to be robbed of our future,” read a tweet posted from Puigdemont’s official account Friday morning.
“We have to stand firm, there’s no going back now.”
In a major victory for Puigdemont, judges at the upper state court in Schleswig-Holstein ruled late Thursday that extradition on a charge of rebellion would be “inadmissable”.
They said in a statement that Puigdemont was not involved in violence during an outlawed referendum on Catalan independence last October.
That was grounds to reject prosecutors’ argument that the Spanish “rebellion” charge was similar enough to Germany’s “high treason” statute to justify extradition.
The Catalan separatist figurehead could still be extradited on a charge of misusing public funds, the judges added, as they asked their Spanish counterparts for more information on the matter.
Once Puigdemont is out on bail, he must keep authorities informed of his whereabouts, report to police weekly, respond to summons from prosecutors or the court, and remain in Germany.
Puigdemont’s German defence team welcomed the decision to set aside the “outrageous” rebellion charge, and said they “respected” judges’ call for more information from Spain.
Puigdemont “always said he had full confidence in the German judiciary,” his Barcelona-based lawyer Jaime Alonso-Cuevillas tweeted.
A Spanish government source told AFP that Madrid “always respects” judicial decisions “whether they please it or not”, adding it expects “appropriate measures” from Spain’s judiciary in response.
If extradited only for misusing public funds, Puigdemont cannot be prosecuted in Spain on the more serious charge of rebellion under European law.
The lesser charge relates to the cost of the Catalan independence referendum, estimated at 1.6 million euros by Madrid.
News of Puigdemont’s bail “will reduce tension and pressure in Catalonia” where protestors have blocked streets and clashed with police in recent days, political scientist Oriol Bartomeus of the Autonomous University of Barcelona told AFP.
But the relief would only be “momentary”, he added, noting that “nothing has been resolved”.
Public opinion in Spain is divided on whether the referendum constituted a “violent uprising” as laid out in law.
Catalans mostly reject the rebellion charge, according to opinion polls. A major demonstration calling for imprisoned separatist leaders to be freed is planned for April 15 in Barcelona.
Flight across Europe
After being removed from office by the central government in Madrid following a unilateral declaration of independence on October 27, Puigdemont fled to Belgium.
He was arrested in northern Germany in late March on the way back from a trip to Finland.
Puigdemont and six political allies escaped Spanish authorities in an attempt to draw international attention to their plight.
A Belgian judge on Thursday bailed three of the four former Catalan ministers who fled to Belgium with Puigdemont after they handed themselves in to police there.
Spain wants the trio — Meritxell Serret, Antoni Comin and Lluis Puig — to face charges of rebellion, misuse of public funds and disobeying the state.
Nine other pro-independence figures are currently in custody in Spain, including six members of Puigdemont’s Catalan government and the former president of the Catalan parliament.