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Defense lawyers for jailed Catalan separatist leaders will request their release

Spanish Supreme Court is divided over next move after German judges reject rebellion charge against Puigdemont

Carles Puigdemont (r) and Oriol Junqueras (standing next to him).
Carles Puigdemont (r) and Oriol Junqueras (standing next to him). EFE
Madrid / Barcelona

Defense lawyers for Catalan separatist leaders who are in pre-trial custody in Spain will next week demand their clients’ release before the Supreme Court, which is in charge of the case.

This move will follow a recent decision by a German court to extradite former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont to Spain on the charge of misuse of public funds that Spanish authorities have filed against him, but not for the crime of rebellion. This means that he can only be tried on the former charge once he is back in Spain.

At a joint press conference in Barcelona, these defense lawyers said that their clients’ legal situation has changed, and not just because of the German judges’ decision. Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena, who has been in charge of the investigation into rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds by separatist leaders, on Tuesday ended the investigative part of the proceedings and will now send the case to trial judges.

The Catalan government has asked the Spanish executive to “use the tools at its disposal” to ensure the separatist leaders’ release

Eighteen people will sit in the dock at hearings expected to begin in late 2018 or early 2019. Before ending the investigation – the biggest one handled by the Supreme Court since the failed coup of February 23, 1981 – Llarena suspended the six Catalan deputies involved in the case, including Puigdemont and Catalan Republican Left (ERC) leader Oriol Junqueras, from public office.

“There is no probability at all that the case will end in a rebellion conviction,” said Andreu Van Den Eynde, who is defending members of ERC. He is asking the public prosecution to agree to his clients’ release ahead of the trial. The jailed individuals are accused of heading a secessionist movement in Catalonia that included an illegal referendum and a unilateral independence declaration in October 2017.

Jordi Pina, the defense lawyer for members of the Democratic Party of Catalonia (PDeCAT), said there is still a possibility that the Supreme Court will reject the extradition, and maintain the rebellion charges against eight defendants. But, he added, “it is not up to the Supreme Court to make political strategy and it would be very difficult to explain to millions of citizens that there are people facing 25 years in prison while another one is only facing five because he has not committed rebellion.”

Options

The Spanish Supreme Court is divided over the issue, with some members saying it should reject Puigdemont’s extradition if the former Catalan leader cannot be tried for rebellion. Spanish judges could also turn to the EU Court of Justice and argue that the German judiciary did not implement the European arrest warrant properly. Prosecutors believe German judges have overstepped their powers by weighing in on the facts of the case, when their role should have been “limited to practical and administrative support.”

There will be no plea bargains with prosecutors, defense lawyers said

A third option would be to accept Puigdemont’s extradition and try him exclusively for misuse of public funds. But sources familiar with the situation said that this is the least likely of all choices, as Puigdemont could ultimately walk free and even run for the regional premiership once again.

If Puigdemont’s extradition were to be rejected, the Spanish judiciary would still maintain the national arrest warrant against him, ensuring that he could not return to Spain until the statute of limitations on rebellion expires, in this case 20 years.

Defense lawyers for the Catalan separatist leaders said there will be no plea bargains with prosecutors. “There is no possible negotiation,” said one of the lawyers, Javier Melero. “The fines would leave our clients ruined for life.”

The Catalan government, whose leader Quim Torra was handpicked by Puigdemont, has asked the Spanish executive to “use the tools at its disposal” to ensure the separatist leaders’ release. There has been a partial thaw in Madrid-Barcelona relations ever since the new Socialist Party (PSOE) administration of Pedro Sánchez took over from the Popular Party a month and a half ago in the wake of a successful no-confidence motion inside Spanish Congress.

Sánchez and Torra met in Madrid on July 9 in a symbolic gesture that marked the first time in two years that Catalan and Spanish government leaders had met face to face at La Moncloa prime ministerial palace.

English version by Susana Urra.

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