Spain’s showdown with Catalonia’s separatist leaders moved Monday to German courts as the region’s former president, Carles Puigdemont, embarked on what could be a weeks-long effort to avoid extradition from Germany.
A court in the northern town of Neumuenster ruled that Puigdemont, who was arrested Sunday in Germany, has to remain in custody for the length of the extradition proceedings.
The court said the formal requirements to detain Puigdemont had been met by a European arrest warrant issued by Spain.
In denying him bail, the court said Puigdemont posed a flight risk, concluding that he had “a strong incentive” to try to travel to Belgium where his chances of avoiding extradition might be greater.
Schleswig Holstein state prosecutor Georg Guentge said the former Catalan leader appeared “calm and composed” during Monday’s hearing, at times making legal arguments on his own behalf.
Guentge said Puigdemont can challenge the legal basis for Spain’s extradition request during the formal proceedings, which will now take place before the upper court in nearby Schleswig. Guentge said it isn’t clear whether a decision on the extradition request will happen this week and in the meantime Puigdemont will remain at the prison in Neumuenster.
With tensions flaring back home, Spain’s government said Puigdemont’s arrest at a highway rest area south of the German-Danish border during an attempt to drive from Finland to Belgium shows that “nobody can infinitely mock justice.”
Tens of thousands protested late Sunday in Barcelona and other Catalan towns, and some demonstrators clashed with riot police.
Spanish authorities accuse Puigdemont, 55, of rebellion and misuse of public funds in organizing an unauthorized referendum last year on independence for Catalonia.
German officials have stressed that the case is a matter for the judicial system, but declined to say whether the German government could ultimately overrule a court decision.
European rules call for a final decision on extradition within 60 days of the suspect’s arrest, though a 30-day extension is possible, Justice Ministry spokeswoman Stephanie Krueger said.
Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in four decades when Puigdemont’s government flouted a court ban and held an ad-hoc referendum on independence for the northeastern region in October.
The Catalan parliament’s subsequent declaration of independence received no international recognition and provoked a takeover of the regional government by Spanish authorities.
Spain originally asked for Puigdemont’s extradition from Belgium after he fled there in October, but later withdrew the request until Spanish Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena concluded his investigation last week.
In the meantime, Puigdemont was free to make trips to Denmark, Switzerland and Finland, in an effort to gain international support for the secessionist movement.
The international arrest warrant for Puigdemont was reactivated on Friday, while he was visiting Finland. Spain has also issued five warrants for other separatists who fled the country.
Authorities examining a European arrest warrant must determine whether the offense a suspect is accused of committing is equivalent to a criminal offense in the country where he was arrested.
Germany’s criminal code — unlike Belgium’s — includes an offense that appears to be comparable to rebellion, the main accusation against Puigdemont. It calls for prison sentences for anyone who “undertakes, by force or through threat of force” to undermine the republic’s existence or change its constitutional order.
Puigdemont and other Catalan separatists argue that their movement has been entirely peaceful. Separatists condemned Sunday’s street violence in Catalonia that led to 100 people, including 23 police agents, being treated for minor injuries.
German Interior Ministry spokesman Johannes Dimroth said Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office was informed Friday about the arrest warrant and the office’s liaison officer in Madrid was informed that Puigdemont might enter the country.
Schleswig-Holstein’s state interior minister, Hans-Joachim Grote, told NDR television that four other people who were in the car with Puigdemont were taken to a police station and then released. He didn’t identify them.
Dimroth said that, in “abstract terms,” Puigdemont could seek asylum in Germany because anyone can file such a request, but added that he couldn’t comment on the likelihood asylum would be granted or say whether Puigdemont had made any such request.
Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer, Paul Bekaert, argued on VRT television that there was “flagrant abuse by Spain of the European arrest warrant for political purpose, which is totally illegal.”
However, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin that “Spain is a democratic state of law.”
“The German government remains convinced that this Catalonia conflict must be resolved within the Spanish legal and constitutional order,” he said, noting Berlin’s support for the “clear position” of the Spanish government in recent months.
Moulson reported from Berlin. Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
Source: Associated Press