Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont may leave German prison: State prosecutor

A portrait of Puigdemont attached to the fence of the German prison where he is being held.
A portrait of Puigdemont attached to the fence of the German prison where he is being held.PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (REUTERS) - Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has paid bail and may immediately leave the prison in the German town of Neumuenster where he has been held since last month, the state prosecutor in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein said on Friday (April 6). 

A German court on Thursday (April 5) rejected an extradition request for Puigdemont on the charge of rebellion for his role in the campaign for the region's independence.

The court agreed to release Puigdemont on bail and said extradition to Spain was possible on the lesser charge of misuse of public funds. The former Catalan leader was arrested last month on a Spanish-issued arrest warrant as he entered Germany.

The ruling means Puigdemont, who fled Spain five months ago for Belgium after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed his regional administration, cannot be tried for rebellion in Spain once extradited on the lesser charge, a German court spokeswoman said.

"The court must now decide if extradition for embezzlement is a possibility," said spokeswoman Frauke Holmer.

"If that is the case, and Mr Puidgemont can be extradited for embezzlement of public money, then a prosecution for rebellion is not possible." Spain respects the German court's decision, a Spanish government spokeswoman said earlier.

Spain's Supreme Court reactivated international arrest warrants last month for Puigdemont and four other Catalan politicians who went into self-imposed exile last year.

Asked by Reuters whether the German court was correct to say Puigdemont could not now be put on trial for rebellion, neither the Spanish government nor the Supreme Court would comment.

The German court said the rebellion charge Puigdemont faced in Spain was not a criminal offence in Germany, while the violence component that would justify a high treason charge was also lacking.

"The actions for which the subject is being prosecuted would not be criminal under German law," the court spokeswoman said.

The charge of rebellion can bring up to 25 years in prison in Spain.

The German court set bail at 75,000 euros (S$120,800). Puigdemont must remain in Germany while extradition proceedings continue and must report weekly to police, the court spokeswoman said.

"There is a risk of flight," the court said in its explanation of its decision to grant bail. "But since extradition on rebellion charges is impermissible, the risk of flight is substantially lessened."

Puigdemont entered Germany on his way back from Finland to Belgium, where he had been living in self-imposed exile.