May 16, 2018 / 12:14 PM / a year ago

Brussels court rejects Spanish extradition request for three Catalan politicians

BRUSSELS/MADRID (Reuters) - A Brussels court ruled on Wednesday against extraditing three former Catalan politicians who fled Spain after a warrant for their arrest was issued due to their involvement in a regional declaration of independence in October.

Dismissed former Catalan Minister of Culture Lluis Puig Gordi, regional Minister of Health Antoni Comin and regional Minister for Agriculture, Meritxell Serret talk to the media after appearing in court in Brussels, Belgium, May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The move is another blow to Spain’s attempts to extradite Catalan politicians who moved to other European countries while facing charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds for organising an illegal independence referendum last year.

In April, a German court rejected an extradition request for Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont on the charge of rebellion for his role in the campaign for the region’s independence.

The three former Catalan regional councillors residing in Belgium - Toni Comin, Meritxell Serret and Lluis Puig - face charges in Spain including disobedience, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

The European arrest warrants - which were issued, dropped and then later reinstated by Spain - were not valid, the Brussels court ruled on Wednesday.

The court backed the Belgian public prosecutor’s case that the re-issued European warrants should have been backed up by new Spanish arrest warrants in order to be valid.

Catalonia’s secession referendum and consequent declaration of independence in October has fuelled a political crisis between Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid has blocked any attempts at independence in the courts, citing Spain’s constitution which says Spain is indivisible.

Spain sacked the regional government following the declaration. Nine Catalan politicians and pro-independence lobbyists are in jail in Madrid awaiting trial.

Puigdemont, who left Spain for Belgium after being fired, is in Berlin awaiting the decision of a German court on an extradition order for the lesser charge of misuse of public funds. He was arrested while travelling in Germany.

New Catalan leader Quim Torra on Tuesday called for an end to direct rule over Catalonia at a joint news conference held in Berlin with Puigdemont.

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Sonya Dowsett and Toby Chopra

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