Catalan ex-minister Clara Ponsati surrenders to police in Scotland

Ponsati leaves court in Edinburgh after being granted bail.
Ponsati leaves court in Edinburgh after being granted bail.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

EDINBURGH (AFP) - Former Catalan minister Clara Ponsati, who is wanted by Spain for her role in last year's independence bid, surrendered to Scottish police on Wednesday (March 28) to face arrest under a European warrant.

Ponsati was later released after being granted bail, but was ordered to surrender her passport during a preliminary extradition hearing at a packed Edinburgh Sheriff Court, pending a full hearing.

Lawyers for Ponsati, a professor at the University of St Andrews, said they will "robustly" reject charges of violent rebellion and misappropriation of public funds for helping to organise last year's independence referendum in Catalonia, which the government in Madrid deemed illegal.

Supporters outside the court when she was released waved Catalan separatist flags and help up a banner reading: "We are with you".

She has received support from members of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which runs the devolved government in Edinburgh, which has condemned arrest warrants issued for the Catalan politicians.

However, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she cannot intervene in an independent legal extradition process.

'TRUE FRIEND'

An online campaign to raise funds for Ponsati's extradition battle was launched earlier on Wednesday, and within three hours had raised more than £90,000 (S$160,000).

"My legal team is instructed to robustly defend Clara as she views these charges as 'political persecution' and a systematic attempt to crush the spirit of the Catalan people and their desire for freedom," her lawyer Aamer Anwar said in a statement.

"She does not believe that the Spanish courts can guarantee independence, human rights or justice. Clara remains defiant, resolute and is determined to fight back."

On her behalf, he thanked the staff at the university, the "many hundreds of thousands of ordinary people" who had backed her, as well as Sturgeon and the Scottish government.

"Scotland has been a true friend to Catalonia in her darkest hours," the lawyer said.

"However, it is absolutely right that the independence of the judiciary in Scotland is respected and that no government should ever interfere in that process. Clara accepts her fate now lies in the hands of the Scottish justice system."

A Spanish judge last week issued international and European arrest warrants for Ponsati and other separatist leaders, including former regional president Carles Puigdemont.

Puigdemont was arrested by German police on Sunday.

Spain's Supreme Court said it would prosecute 13 key separatists including Puigdemont and Ponsati for "rebellion", a crime which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail.

Ponsati was a minister in the Catalan government when it declared independence from the rest of Spain following a referendum in October.

She fled later that month with Puigdemont and three other former ministers to Brussels, after Spain dismissed the Catalan executive and imposed direct rule.

Ponsati then returned to the University of St Andrews, north-east of Edinburgh, where she had formerly worked and is a professor in the school of economics and finance.