Extradition of ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont suspended

European Arrest Warrant levelled against him by the Spanish court should now be rejected, his lawyer claims

Former Catalan pro-independence leader Carles Puigdemont

A Brussels court has suspended the extradition of former Catalan pro-independence leader Carles Puigdemont, his lawyer said on Thursday. The Belgian judge in charge of the case had ruled in favour of Toni Comin, another former member of the Catalan government, as well, citing his and Puigdemont immunity as members of the European Parliament.

The pair are wanted in Spain on charges of sedition after organising a failed Catalan independence referendum in 2017 but Madrid’s three previous extradition requests have been refused by courts in Belgium, Germany and Scotland. Most lately, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled last month that the men enjoy immunity from prosecution unless Spain requests this be removed and their fellow MEPs agree.

On Thursday, Puigdemont's Belgian lawyer Simon Bekaert told AFP the European Arrest Warrant levelled against the men by the Spanish court should now be rejected.

Separately, Puigdemont's camp issued a triumphant statement.

"Today, the Belgian justice system has once again stopped the attempt to extradite president Puigdemont and councillor Comin because they recognise their immunity," it said.

On Twitter, Puigdemont declared: "Spain must act in the same way as Belgium has done and respect the law."

Meanwhile, Catalan pro-independence leader, Oriol Junqueras, was arrested in Spain and has been sentenced to 13 years in jail for sedition over his role in the referendum. But he was also elected to the European Parliament while still in pre-trial detention in last May's EU-wide vote and appealed to the ECJ, leading to last month's immunity decision.

Another Catalan politician, former regional culture minister Luis Puig, is also in Belgium and is not an MEP. He is still facing possible extradition in the case.

The next Belgian hearing in the extradition case is on 3 February but the judge is expected to take note of the examining magistrate's decision to recognise Puigdemont and Comin's immunity.

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