FILE - In this April 18, 2018 file photo, former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont attends a meeting with lawmakers of his party, Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), in Berlin, Germany. A Spanish Supreme Court judge has dropped his extradition requests for six Catalan separatist politicians wanted on rebellion charges. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn,file)

Spain: Judge drops extradition bids for 6 Catalan fugitives

July 19, 2018 - 8:45 am

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish Supreme Court judge on Thursday dropped extradition requests for six politicians wanted on rebellion charges for their roles in promoting the Catalonia region's independence, including former regional president Carles Puigdemont.

Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid arrest after the Spanish government removed him and his Cabinet from office at the end of October. He was arrested in Germany in March as he was traveling from Finland to Brussels and is believed to be living in Hamburg.

The Spanish judge withdrew his extradition requests after a German court ruled last week that Puigdemont could not be sent back to Spain for rebellion, only for embezzlement connected to the alleged misuse of public funds for a referendum on secession.

Judge Pablo Llarena was scathing in his assessment of the German court's decision, describing it as "a lack of commitment" in pursuing the fugitives. Llarena wants Puigdemont and his separatist allies to face charges of rebellion and sedition, as well as misuse of public funds.

If Puigdemont and the others were extradited solely for alleged embezzlement, Spanish prosecutors would be able to put them on trial just on that charge. Rebellion carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years in Spain, while misuse of public funds is punishable by up to 12 years.

Llarena said in a decision published Thursday that he was revoking the international arrest warrants for the six former officials, a development the Catalan separatist movement took as a victory against Spain's central authorities.

The first deputy speaker of the regional parliament in Catalonia, Josep Costa, tweeted "Llarena KO".

Puigdemont's lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, declared triumph, writing on Twitter: "It looks like we have a memorable summer."

The charges are in connection with the Catalan regional government's unauthorized Oct. 1 referendum on independence from Spain and a subsequent unilateral declaration of independence by the separatist-controlled regional parliament.

The declaration won no international recognition, but the standoff between regional powers in the Catalan capital, Barcelona, and national authorities in Madrid created Spain's worst political crisis in four decades.

A German court last week said Spain's rebellion charge was not recognized in Germany and that related German statutes — such as the law against treason — did not apply because Puigdemont's actions "did not rise to this kind of violence."

If the six politicians return to Spain voluntarily, they would still face rebellion and sedition charges.

The other fugitive politicians are Antoni Comin, Meritxell Serret and Lluis Puig, who also fled to Belgium, Clara Ponsati, who is in Scotland, and Marta Rovira, who is believed to be in Switzerland.

Nine other prominent Catalan separatist politicians are in Spanish jails awaiting possible trial for promoting the region's drive to secede.

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