German court: Former Catalan leader can be extradited

Extradition on corruption charge admissible

By NADINE SCHMIDT AND JUDITH VONBERG, CNN
CNN

Carles Puigdemont

(CNN) - A German court has ruled that former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who led the Spanish region's recent failed bid for independence, can be extradited to Spain on a corruption charge, but not on a charge of rebellion against the government in Madrid.

The high court in Schleswig-Holstein, the state where Puigdemont was first arrested in March, ruled Thursday that extradition on the grounds of alleged misappropriation of public funds is admissible.

Puigdemont and several other former Catalan leaders have been accused by Spanish authorities of misusing funds by holding the independence referendum last October, which Madrid described as illegal.

The court also ruled, however, that the deposed leader's actions in Catalonia do not meet the definitions of high treason or breach of the peace and the violence triggered by the bid for independence did not pose a severe threat to Spanish rule.

He, therefore, cannot be extradited on a "rebellion" charge and, if he is returned to Spain, Spanish authorities cannot prosecute Puigdemont based on that accusation.

In a statement, Puigdemont's legal team welcomed the court's rejection of the "rebellion" charge and attacked the Spanish authorities for the threat of prosecution.

"Carles Puigdemont is being prosecuted by the Spanish judiciary only because he allowed a democratic referendum to go ahead, which his voters had mandated him to do."

They added that Germany should not take part "in such a criminalization of democratic behavior" and should stay out of "Spanish quarrels."

The Catalan leader fled to Belgium in October after spearheading Catalonia's independence referendum. Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in decades as the vote divided the country and was declared illegal by then-Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who called for Puigdemont's arrest.

Madrid later imposed direct rule on Catalonia, stripping the autonomous region of many of its administrative powers.

While en route from Finland to Belgium in late March, Puigdemont was detained in northern Germany, where courts began proceedings to assess the case for extradition.

According to Thursday's ruling, he has been complying with the authorities and is not currently in custody.

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