The Spanish judiciary's extradition quest against exiled Catalan government minister Lluís Puig has definitively failed. Belgian prosecutors have decided not to appeal the decision of their country's Court of Appeal against the extradition of Puig, thus ending the path for the European Arrest Warrant issued against him for his involvement in the 2017 Catalan independence referendum, and at the same time, opening a new scenario for all of the exiled Catalan politicians.
The Belgian prosecution service assured the ACN news agency this morning that it would not appeal the negative response to the extradition question given yesterday by the Court of Appeal. Prosecutors had 24 hours to decide.
The Court of Appeal considered, as Puig's defence lawyer explained, that the Spanish Supreme Court is not competent in this case and that there is a risk that the presumption of innocence could be violated, based on the statements of Spanish judges, prosecutors and authorities.
The Supreme Court's lack of competency for the case has been one of the fundamental arguments of the exiled Catalan leaders against the European Arrest Warrants which the court issued. And it is also one of the points on which the demand for the release of the nine Catalan political prisoners is based, as Carles Puigdemont has recalled in a tweet.
Game over. El Suprem no era, no és ni serà competent per perseguir-nos. Ni a nosaltres, ni als presos polítics. Llibertat immediata per a @ForcadellCarme, @junqueras, @jorditurull, @raulromeva, @quimforn, @joseprull, @dolorsbassac, @jcuixart i @jordialapreso. https://t.co/2Y1dX3464Z— Carles Puigdemont (@KRLS) January 8, 2021
"Game over. The Supreme Court was not, is not and will not be competent to prosecute us. Neither us nor the political prisoners. Immediate release for @ForcadellCarme, @junqueras, @jorditurull, @raulromeva, @quimforn, @joseprull, @dolorsbassac, @jcuixart and @jordialapreso"— Carles Puigdemont
On Thursday, the three JxCat MEPs - Puigdemont, Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín - stressed the effect that this court decision may have on all the legal cases against them as well as on the situation of the nine prisoners jailed for sedition for organizing the referendum.
In fact, the defence lawyer of several of the pro-independence politicians, Gonzalo Boye, celebrated the decision of the Belgian prosecutors via Twitter, using a chess metaphor to warn that the move that ends the game may not be far away.
Checkmate... habrá que ver en cuantas jugadas #Seguimos— Gonzalo Boye (@boye_g) January 8, 2021
"Checkmate... we have yet to see how many moves it will take."— Gonzalo Boye
Spain's European Arrest Warrant demanded the extradition of Puig for a crime of misuse of public funds for the organization of the 1st October 2017 referendum on Catalan independence from Spain.
It was the third arrest warrant issued against the minister. The first was presented in December 2017, when part of the Catalan government went into exile in Belgium with Carles Puigdemont. The second, in 2018, had to be amended several times as it contained formal errors and was definitively defeated when the Schleswig-Holstein court ruled that Carles Puigdemont could not be extradited for the Spanish crimes of sedition and rebellion as they did not match any offences in German law.
Reactions to the Belgian judiciary's final decision were not long in coming. The association created by Puigdemont to lead the struggle from exile, the Council for the Republic, noted that this victory served as a demonstration vindicating the option of exile as a way to continue the struggle for Catalan rights.
🚩ATENCIÓ🚩— Consell per la República Catalana (@ConsellxRep) January 8, 2021
Victòria definitiva des de l'exili!
Bèlgica denega finalment l'extradició de @LluisPuigGordi perquè la fiscalia belga no presentarà recurs a Cassació.
La lluita fora les fronteres de l'Estat espanyol segueix donant els resultats esperats 👇https://t.co/DHOfcULBex pic.twitter.com/25I7eJAFWT
"ATTENTION: Definitive victory from exile! Belgium finally denies the extradition of @LluisPuigGordi as the Belgian prosecution will not appeal to the [Belgian] Court of Cassation. The fight beyond the borders of the Spanish state continues to yield the results that were expected." - Council for the Catalan Republic.