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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

German prosecutors seek to extradite ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont

The former Catalan parliament leader was arrested last month while returning to Belgium from Finland

People hold a poster and Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) in protest to support the release of former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont in front of the prison in Neumuenster, Germany. The poster reads 'Be fair please'. Fabian Bimmer/ Reuters
People hold a poster and Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) in protest to support the release of former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont in front of the prison in Neumuenster, Germany. The poster reads 'Be fair please'. Fabian Bimmer/ Reuters

German prosecutors said Tuesday they are seeking the extradition of former Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont to Spain, where he could face trial for his role in organising an independence referendum.

Mr Puigdemont was detained in Germany on March 25 as he attempted to drive from Finland to Belgium, where he currently resides.

Prosecutors in the northern town of Schleswig said they have asked the regional court to formally put him in pre-extradition custody following "intensive examination" of the European arrest warrant issued by Spain's supreme court on March 23. If the court agrees to the request, prosecutors would still need to issue an order signing off on Puigdemont's extradition.

Schleswig prosecutors said in a statement they consider the charge of rebellion to have an equivalent in German law — one of the requirements for extradition to take place.

"The accusation of rebellion contains at its core the allegation of carrying out an unconstitutional referendum despite expectations of violent disturbances," the prosecutors said.

They noted that during a meeting with police on September 28, Mr Puigdemont was warned that violence might escalate on the day of the October 1 referendum, but his government went through with it anyway.

In addition to rebellion, Madrid accuses the 55-year-old of misuse of public funds.

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Read more:

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In an interview from jail, published on Monday, Mr Puigdemont insisted the campaign for the Spanish region's independence was nonviolent.

Mr Puigdemont's lawyers said in a written statement that they have asked judges to reject the prosecutors' request, adding that they and their client "trust there will be an independent and objective examination by the Schleswig state court, to which further arguments against extradition will be presented in detail."

The lawyers have also urged the German government to intervene in the case, citing the "political dimension."

The superior regional court confirmed it had received the prosecutors' request, adding that it was "undetermined when a decision on the application can be expected".

The higher court must first decide if there is a legal basis to put Mr Puigdemont in pre-extradition custody by reviewing the written request from Spain. It will then rule on the extradition bid itself.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, speaking during a visit to Algeria, said his country would respect the ruling by the German courts.

"Logically, it now falls to the German justice system to make the final decision and of course we will respect this," he told reporters in Algiers.

Mr Puigdemont has already filed an appeal in Spain against a decision to prosecute him, arguing the rebellion charge against him is not justified.

The 85-page appeal asks that the Spanish Supreme Court's "actions" be declared "null" 10 days after Judge Pablo Llarena said 25 Catalan separatist leaders - including Mr Puigdemont - would be prosecuted over the region's secession bid.

In the appeal, Alonso-Cuevillas demands that the court drop the charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.

The appeal states that under Spanish law, the rebellion offence, which can carry up to 30 years in prison, implies there was a violent uprising.

But it maintains that if there was any violence before or on October 1, the day when an independence referendum was held in Catalonia despite a court ban, it was "isolated" and did not justify the rebellion offence.