Puigdemont Extradition Hearing Set for November 17

Carles Puigdemont at Belgian Federal prosecutor office, Brussels, Belgium - 05 Nov 2017 (Photo by OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Belgian prosecutors say ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont will face court again on 17th of November as an investigating judge weighs his extradition to Spain. They said today that the hearing will be held behind closed doors. It is likely that Puigdemont and his four associates will be handed the decision whether they must be extradited to Madrid.

Five former Catalan officials would have the right to appeal, and until they exhaust all legal avenues could remain in Belgium until early January, according to the Washington Post. In Spain, they are suspected of sedition, misusing of public funds and other charges, which could land them in jail for up to 30 years. Some of their fellow independence leaders are already held in the Spanish jail.

Puigdemont has said he stands ready to campaign from Belgium in regional elections in Catalonia, planned for 21st of December. He was granted the possibility to participate in the campaign by the Belgian authorities.

Belgian ruling coalition split

The conditions of release include a ban on them leaving Belgium until their appearance in the court of the first instance in Brussels later this month. With the extradition process likely to take months rather than weeks, there is growing scope for Puigdemont’s presence in Belgium to cause the country’s coalition government serious difficulties.

Belgium’s foreign minister Didier Reynders urged his colleagues to keep out of the Catalan crisis, following calls from some senior figures in Belgian politics for the country’s prime minister, Charles Michel, along with the EU, to do more to keep Puigdemont and his former ministers out of jail.

Over the weekend, the Flemish nationalist politician and deputy prime minister of Belgium, Jan Jambon, along with the former Belgian prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, condemned Spain for its handling of the crisis, including the imprisonment of regional politicians.

The leader of the biggest party in the Belgian government, Bart De Wever, went much further, saying that Spain’s ruling People’s party – which was founded by a former Franco minister – was a prisoner of its own history. He called the situation in the rogue Spanish region “a political, not a judicial crisis” that needs to be solved with a dialogue.

Puigdemont: Colossal outrage

Puigdemont has accused the Spanish authorities of conducting a “brutal judicial offensive” against members of his ousted government and said he was afraid they would not receive an unbiased hearing in Spanish courts.

In a personal letter to the Guardian, Puigdemont said it was a “colossal outrage” that he and 13 colleagues were being investigated over possible charges including sedition and rebellion in relation to their roles in last month’s declaration of independence.

“Today, the leaders of this democratic project stand accused of rebellion and face the severest punishment possible under the Spanish penal code; the same as for cases of terrorism and murder: 30 years in prison,” he said.

Puigdemont said he doubted that he and his colleagues would get a fair and independent hearing and called for scrutiny from abroad to help bring the Catalan crisis to a political, rather than judicial, conclusion.

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