German prosecutors file for extradition of ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont

A woman holds an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) in protest to support the release of former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont in front of the prison in Neumuenster, Germany, on April 3, 2018.
A woman holds an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) in protest to support the release of former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont in front of the prison in Neumuenster, Germany, on April 3, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (REUTERS) - German prosecutors filed a request to a regional court on Tuesday (April 3) for the extradition of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to Spain, where he faces charges of rebellion over the region's campaign for independence.

Puigdemont has been held in a detention centre in the northern German town of Neumuenster for just over a week after he was arrested in Germany on March 25.

Prosecutors in the state of Schleswig-Holstein said Spain's extradition request was admissible because accusations of rebellion included carrying out an anti-constitutional referendum even though violent clashes could be expected.

"This has a comparable equivalent in German law," said the prosecutors in a statement.

Prosecutors also asked the Higher Regional Court in Schleswig-Holstein, which will decide on the extradition, to keep Puigdemont in prison during the proceedings because there was a danger he would try to escape.

Puigdemont fled Spain five months ago for Belgium after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed his regional administration and imposed direct rule from Madrid.

The charges he faces over the organising of an illegal secession referendum could lead to 25 years behind bars.

The German government has insisted Puigdemont's extradition is a matter for the courts, even though last week his German lawyer Wolfgang Schomburg said he would also be looking to the German government in his attempts to get the ex-Catalan leader freed. The justice minister is entitled to veto any extradition.

Prosecutors also said the Spanish accusation of misuse of public money - for carrying out an unconstitutional referndum - also had an equivalent in German law.

On Monday (April 2), Puigdemont appealed against the charge of rebellion in Spain's Supreme Court, saying he did not commit any acts of violence to justify this. He also appealed against the charge of mis-use of public funds.

It is unclear when the German court will make its decision.

The Spanish court aims to try a total of 25 Catalan leaders for rebellion and other charges. International arrest warrants are active against four other politicians who fled abroad last year, including Carla Ponsati, a former Catalan education minister who is fighting extradition from her home in Scotalnd.

Five separatist leaders are in jail in Spain pending trial. They all deny any wrongdoing.

The Catalans say they will not get a fair trial in Spain and are being prosecuted for their political beliefs. Spain denies this and says their actions violated the Spanish constitution.