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Citing “political crimes,” Switzerland casts doubt on extradition of Catalan separatist leader

Spanish Supreme Court issues national arrest warrant for Anna Gabriel, who skipped court date over role in declaration of independence

A banner in support of Anna Gabriel in Vilanova i la Geltrú (Barcelona).
A banner in support of Anna Gabriel in Vilanova i la Geltrú (Barcelona).

The Swiss government said on Wednesday that it will not in principle extradite a leading figure of the Catalan separatist movement to Spain, where she is facing a rebellion and sedition probe over the illegal independence bid.

Folco Galli, the spokesman for the Swiss justice department, said in response to media queries that the charges of rebellion and sedition facing Anna Gabriel, who traveled to Geneva a few weeks ago to avoid legal proceedings back home, are “in all likelihood a political crime.”

The judge must now decide whether to request her immediate extradition

On Wednesday afternoon, after confirming Gabriel’s absence at her own hearing, Supreme Court prosecutors asked the judge to order preventive prison for her and issue a national arrest warrant.

If the Swiss government believes that the case against the separatist leader is political in nature, “it could not act on a potential extradition request.” However, Galli added that the justice department will examine the facts more in depth if an extradition request is received.

The decision by Anna Gabriel to flee to Switzerland to avoid legal proceedings back home has opened up a long and complex legal process for Spain.

Gabriel, a former deputy and spokesperson for the anti-establishment CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), on Tuesday officially notified the Spanish Supreme Court that she would ignore her court date with Judge Pablo Llarena, who is overseeing an ongoing probe into rebellion, secession and misuse of public funds against former Catalan government officials.

Hardliners

Gabriel’s far-left group takes a hardline approach to independence, and had pushed for unequivocal moves toward this goal as a condition for its support inside the regional parliament. A unilateral declaration was made in late October, and Madrid reacted by invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which gave the central government the power to temporarily revoke Catalonia’s self-rule. The entire Catalan government was removed from office and the ousted premier, Carles Puigdemont, fled to Belgium to avoid rebellion charges.

But the process could be complicated even further if Gabriel requests political asylum, which CUP spokespeople said she will do if an international arrest warrant is issued. So far, the court has limited the arrest orders to Spanish territory.

Anna Gabriel had been scheduled to appear before Judge Llarena on Wednesday at 9.30am. The judge must now decide whether to request her immediate extradition from Swiss authorities. Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, meaning that both governments will be involved in the process, making it a political rather than a merely legal issue.

Swiss laws forbid handing over alleged criminals if the case is viewed by Swiss authorities to be “predominantly political” in nature. This is going to be the basis for Gabriel’s defense. In an interview with a Swiss newspaper, she stated that “I am being prosecuted due to my political activities and the government press has already condemned me.”

In March 2017, the Swiss Federal Justice Office authorized the extradition to Spain of Miren Nekane Txapartegi, convicted of cooperating with the Basque terrorist organization ETA, despite her claims of political persecution.

The crimes of rebellion and sedition as defined in the Spanish Criminal Code do not have exact counterparts in Swiss legislation. Article 265 of the Swiss penal code sets out prison terms of “at least a year” for acts aimed at “violently modifying the Constitution” or “separating by force part of the Swiss territory from the Confederation,” among others. In Spain, the most serious cases of rebellion and sedition entail up to 30 years in prison.

Judicial cooperation between Spain and Switzerland went through a difficult moment when Spain denied a request to hand over Hervé Falciani, a whistleblower accused of data theft who leaked information about alleged tax evaders. Despite this, Switzerland agreed to extradite ETA collaborator Miren Nekane Txapartegi, and has aided Spain with corruption probes requiring bank account information.

English version by Susana Urra.

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