Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Belgium suspends arrest warrant for Catalan separatist leader

Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium after a failed secession bid by Catalan separatists

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont shows a badge at the European Parliament in Brussels. Reuters
Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont shows a badge at the European Parliament in Brussels. Reuters

The arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont has been suspended by Belgian judicial authorities because of the Catalan separatist leader's immunity as a European lawmaker, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Paul Bekaert said that the Belgian judge in charge of the case also suspended the warrant issued against former Catalan cabinet member Toni Comin.

The two are wanted in Spain for their role in an illegal 2017 secession bid by the Catalan government and separatist lawmakers.

They fled to Belgium after the attempt failed and were elected to the European Parliament in May as representatives of Catalan separatist parties from Spain.

Last month the European Union’s top court, the European Court of Justice, overturned a decision preventing Mr Puigdemont and Mr Comin from taking their European Parliament seats.

Spain's state prosecutors' office, however, asked a Spanish judge to maintain the international arrest warrants for the pair.

It was still not clear whether Mr Puigdemont and Mr Comin, whose extradition hearing had already been postponed to February 3, will be allowed to take their seats.

“The investigative judge has decided to suspend the procedure of the European warrant following the decision of the European Court of Justice,” Bekaert said.

“The European Court has ruled they have immunity."

Belgium's federal prosecutor's office did not immediately answer a request for comment.

“Belgian justice recognises our immunity and decides to suspend the arrest and extradition warrant!" Puigdemont said in a message posted on Twitter.

“But now we are still waiting for the release of (Oriol Junqueras), who has the same immunity as us. Spain must act in the same way as Belgium has done and respect the law."

The ECJ ruled on December 19 that Mr Junqueras, a former Catalan regional vice president serving a prison sentence in Spain for his role in Catalonia's banned independence referendum, had earned the right to immunity when he was elected as a European lawmaker alongside Mr Puigdemont and Mr Comín.

Mr Junqueras was sentenced in October to 13 years in prison for sedition. Eleven of his associates were found guilty and eight of them also received prison terms.

Updated: January 2, 2020 09:48 PM

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