Belgium ends extradition case against Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont

Deposed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont holding a video conference call during a meeting for the upcoming Catalonian elections in Barcelona, on Dec 10, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRUSSELS (AFP) - A Belgian court formally closed extradition proceedings against deposed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Thursday (Dec 14), after Spain dropped the European arrest warrant against him.

Puigdemont and four of his deputies fled to Belgium in October to avoid charges of rebellion, sedition and misusing public money in relation to Catalonia's independence drive, prompting Madrid to seek their return.

But in a surprise move the Spanish Supreme Court withdrew the European arrest warrants last week and on Thursday a Belgian judge officially ended the case in Brussels.

Paul Bekaert, Puigdemont's Belgian lawyer, told AFP the judge had declared the case to be "without merit" during a closed-door hearing.

Puigdemont and his cadres said they wanted to take their cause to the European level after Spain charged them, but the 28-nation bloc has been resolute in its support for the Spanish government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The Catalan officials face arrest if they return to Spain over their role in the independence crisis, which began with an illegal referendum in October, and Puigdemont said last week he plans to stay in Belgium "for now".

He said that if his party wins elections in Catalonia on Dec 21 then "we should return" but did not give any further details of whether he would actually go back for the polls.

Some 45,000 Catalan independence supporters rallied in Brussels last week to back Puigdemont and urge the EU to stop siding with Spain.

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