A Belgian court on Friday (7 August) rejected the extradition of a former Catalan regional minister to face charges in Spain related to the banned 2017 independence referendum, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors could yet appeal the decision not to surrender Lluis Puig, but it will give hope to other exiled Catalan separatist leaders such as former regional president Carles Puigdemont.
The Brussels public prosecutor said the court “refused to execute the European arrest warrant on the grounds that the Spanish authority which issued the warrant was not competent to do so.
“The Brussels Public Prosecutor’s Office is considering whether to appeal against this decision,” it added.
Three years after the referendum Spain is still pursuing several of Catalan politicians who chose exile rather than face prosecution and jail time for organising the vote.
Nine more Catalan officials who remained in Spain, including former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras, were sentenced to 13 years in prison last October by the Supreme Court.
They, however, faced sedition charges. Puig — who is 60 and was Catalan culture minister — faces a charge of disobedience and misusing public funds to help organise the referendum.
Three former colleagues prosecuted for the same offences received only 60,000-euro fines and were banned from public office.
Puigdemont, and his former health and education ministers Toni Comin and Clare Ponsati face the more serious sedition charge.
Puigdemont and Comin are also in Belgium — where they are subject to a European arrest warrant issued by Spain — while Ponsati is in Scotland and faces an extradition claim.
All three, however, are elected members of the European Parliament and as such enjoy immunity from prosecution.
Spain has asked the parliament to strip them of this privilege, but a decision on this by their fellow MEPs has been delayed by the coronavirus crisis and is expected later this year or early 2021.