A Belgian court has denied an appeal to quash a request from Spain for extradition of former Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont on the grounds that he now holds immunity as a sitting member of the European Parliament (MEP).
On Monday, the Belgian judge considering the extradition request denied the appeal by Puigdemont’s lawyers, leaving the extradition request proceedings open for an “indeterminate” amount of time, until after the European Parliament itself rules on whether or not European parliamentary membership gives Puigdemont and Catalan colleagues immunity from prosecution in Spain, where they are sought on charges related to their role in Catalonia’s illegal October 2017 referendum on independence from Spain.
Puigdemont and other members of his regional government fled Spain in November 2017 to avoid prosecution on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds in backing the rebellion. A dozen other former Catalan government leaders have since been tried by Spain’s Supreme Court, which reduced the charge of rebellion to sedition and handed down jail sentences of varying lengths to the defendants.
The European Parliament is currently involved in a months-long process of considering a request from the Spanish Supreme Court to remove the parliamentary immunity granted Puigdemont and two other colleagues, former Catalan government ministers Toni Comín y Clara Ponsatí.
The case is currently under review by the parliament’s Legal Affairs committee, which is chaired by MEP Adrián Vázquez of Spain’s centre-right Ciudadanos party, which is a member of the liberal Renew Europe parliamentary group (formerly Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), from which Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party was expelled last year.
Since the post-Brexit re-composition of the European Parliament on 31st December, parliamentary groups opposed to granting Puigdemont and fellow Catalans immunity from prosecution — including Renew Europe, the conservative European People’s Party (PPE) and the centre-left Party of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) — hold a total of 431 seats in the 705-member parliament.
When the Catalans’ immunity question comes to a vote, a simple majority vote will be needed to lift their immunity and it is expected that when this occurs the case will then again be taken up by the Belgian judge, who will proceed to rule on the request for extradition to Spain.
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