Ex-Catalan President Carles Puigdemont remains behind bars as court considers Spanish extradition bid

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 5:48am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 10:11pm

A court ruled that former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont must remain in German custody until a review of Spain’s extradition request, but voiced doubts on the merits of the bid.

Puigdemont can be held to allow an appeal court to consider Spain’s arrest warrant, a judge in the northern German town of Neumuenster ruled late Monday. The judge said the Spanish filing isn’t invalid on its face, which would have required the court to set him free.

“The warrant has some points indicating that under a thorough review balancing the legal issues, the extradition may have to be ruled illicit,” the court said in an emailed statement. “But it’s also not obvious that the warrant fails to state” any crime at all.

Spain’s effort to get hold of the Catalan politician led to the 55-year-old Puigdemont’s arrest on Sunday as he crossed into Germany from Denmark by car.

Monday’s ruling is only the start of a cascade of court procedures in Germany over his fate that could drag on for months.

German prosecutors will now start the process of handling the Spanish request to return him to face trial on rebellion charges.

Spain issued a European Arrest Warrant, which typically simplifies and speeds up extraditions between member of the European Union. Nevertheless, German law requires that a court must clear any extradition, a procedure which can take several weeks or months.

The former Catalan president’s detention in Germany was hailed by anti-separatist forces as a decisive blow against the push for Catalan independence.

In a boost for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the arrest will force Puigdemont off the political stage, at least for the short-term.

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Soeren Schomburg, a German lawyer for Puigdemont, didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

The Schleswig Higher Regional Court will now be asked to decide whether Puigdemont can be held in custody while the proceedings are pending, said Michael Rosenthal, a German defence lawyer.

Its judges could decide to grant him bail and order some provisional measure ensuring he will stay in Germany.

Prosecutors in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, where Puigdemont is being held, will first have to check whether there are legal reasons to block his extradition.

If they find the extradition is valid, Puigdemont’s lawyers can challenge the warrant in court. Whoever wins at that level, the case is likely to end up at Germany’s Constitutional Court.

Under the rules for the European Arrest Warrant, there’s a catalogue of offences for which countries must extradite, such as terrorism, human trafficking or child pornography.

Rebellion isn’t on that list, so the judges need to determine whether the charge against Puigdemont is also a crime under German law.

Fugitive ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont detained in Germany

The comparable crime of high treason under German law requires violent acts or threats to use violence, said Otto Lagodny, a professor of comparative criminal law at Salzburg University.

Since Puigdemont has avoided being associated with violence, the court may have to block the extradition, he said.

“The judges would need to show a lot of spine,” said Lagodny. “I’m afraid they will duck out of it.”

Even if the court ruled that there aren’t legal obstacles, Germany would have some political leeway to oppose it, said Rosenthal, the defence lawyer.

While the authorities of Schleswig-Holstein will have to rule on this, they have to liaise and consult the federal government.

“There’s still that good old tradition that you normally don’t extradite for political offences,” said Rosenthal.

“Some of that is still in the rule that, even if courts clear an extradition, the authorities can say no.”

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Past proceedings over European Arrest Warrants have taken months, if not years. In a case against four traders charged in the UK for rigging interest-rate benchmarks at Deutsche Bank AG, the UK had issued a warrant in May 2016.

The men, all German citizens, weren’t put in custody and heir extradition was finally blocked by a Frankfurt court in February.