With the arrest of Catalan pro-independence activists for plotting acts of violence, the Belgian lawyer of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has warned that if Spain tries to ‘fabricate a case’ against his client for terrorism, it ‘will have no chance’ to extradite him with a new arrest warrant.
The exiled former president had already said the latest arrests of activists and their alleged links with his family were aiming to persuade Belgium to extradite him.
His defence expects a third European arrest warrant against him and the other exiled officials to be launched immediately after the verdict on the jailed leaders is out this October.
Paul Bekaert, who represents Puigdemont in Brussels, has also spoken about the media reports linking the head of the Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) party with the case of the CDR (Committees in Defence of the Republic) activists being held in custody under terror charges.
Bekaert insists that if the Spanish authorities demand that a new European arrest warrant be automatically issued for the former president on the grounds of terrorism, it will be ‘a Belgian judge who decides if the facts are terrorism or not.’
In any case, says the lawyer, whatever decision a judge might come to would have to be suspended whilst the European courts rule on whether Puigdemont enjoys immunity after being elected an MEP in May, despite not being allowed to take up his seat.
With the verdict on Catalan independence leaders tried in the Supreme Court due soon, Puigdemont, and his fellow former government members in exile, are ready to face another attempt to extradite them, with prosecutors looking into issuing a third warrant for them.
The Spanish judiciary withdrew the second arrest warrant it had issued for the exiled former officials involved in the failed 2017 independence bid in July last year, after the German and Belgian courts refused to extradite them on rebellion charges – in December 2017, Spain’s judiciary had already withdrawn the first EU warrant they had issued.
Puigdemont, along with four of his former ministers, went into exile after the 2017 declaration of independence on the grounds that they would not have a ‘fair trial’ in Spain.
Whilst Bekeart says that Spain can issue the same warrant as many times as it likes, the lawyer predicts that it would ‘give a bad impression’ to judges in Belgium, and he does not rule out the Spanish Judiciary making changes to any future warrant.
The Belgian attorney Denis Bosquet also referred to a potential new extradition request by saying that Spain will have to justify a new attempt with ‘new reasons’.
Meanwhile, former Catalan minister Clara Ponsatí‘s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said it that it would be ‘strange’ if another extradition request with the same arguments as the ones before would be issued.
What Bekaert is sure about is that with a new arrest warrant for terrorism, the Belgian courts ‘will look at the facts’. Terror charges allow for an automatic warrant to be issued, but the lawyer says: ‘If the facts prove there’s no terrorism, there’ll be no extradition’ for this offence.
Meanwhile, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is currently looking into whether Puigdemont, along with Oriol Junqueras and Toni Comín, enjoy immunity as elected MEPs. If the court rules in their favour, any decision on extradition will be ‘suspended’.
As for how the upcoming Supreme Court verdict might affect the issuing of a new order, Bekeart believes it will not help the chance of extraditing the exiled former officials, but will offer ‘more evidence of political persecution’ and ‘infringement of human rights’.