Catalan academic facing extradition from Scotland granted bail

Clara Ponsatí’s lawyer says she will fight attempt to return her to Spain to face rebellion charge

Clara Ponsatí, the Catalan academic facing extradition from Scotland to Spain for alleged sedition, has been granted bail by a court in Edinburgh pending a full hearing later this spring.

Ponsatí appeared in the dock at the city’s sheriff court flanked by custody officers after she was formally arrested at a police station in Edinburgh on Wednesday and served with a European arrest warrant issued by judges in Madrid.

Her lawyer, Claire Mitchell, told the court Ponsatí faced charges of rebellion and misusing €1.6m in public funds for her role in the Catalan regional government, which organised an illegal independence referendum last year.

The 18-page arrest warrant listed 56 specific claims, with 34 additional pages of supporting legal material. It blames her in part for violence against 6,000 Spanish police officers as security forces fought to close down polling stations.

Mitchell said Ponsatí would “robustly” resist the extradition, but her bail application was unopposed by Scottish prosecutors representing the Spanish courts. There will be further proceedings in April, with the full case due to take place later.

Before the case began, about 150 Catalan and Scottish independence supporters, some waving Catalan flags, had gathered outside the court. By Wednesday afternoon, a crowdfunding campaign launched that morning to pay Ponsatí’s legal costs had reached more than £166,000.

Mitchell added there were significant questions about whether the warrant was valid and whether the offences listed in it were valid in Scots law. They may argue that the extradition was disproportionate and incompatible with Postaní’s rights under the European convention on human rights.

Catalan leaders

Speaking alongside Postaní after her release on bail, her solicitor, Aamer Anwar, said she faced 25 years in jail for sedition and up to eight years for misusing public funds.

“She can’t believe she is being held responsible for the violence which took place on the day of the referendum,” he said. “She believes that the Catalan people tried to express a democratic right to decide their own destiny.”

The Scottish government has stopped short of supporting Catalonia’s independence but insists that the region be allowed to conduct a referendum, which is illegal under Spain’s constitution.

Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government’s external affairs secretary, wrote to Spain’s ambassador to the UK, Carlos Bastarreche Sagües, on Tuesday, protesting at the use of a European arrest warrant in a political dispute.

Ponsatí has been named by the Spanish courts as a fugitive from justice after briefly serving as an education minister under Carles Puigdemont in the regional Catalan government. She is one of five senior figures in Puigdemont’s team who fled Spain after his government was removed from office.

Highly regarded at St Andrews University, she had just finished a three-year term as head of the its school of economics when Puigdemont recalled her to Barcelona to be his new education minister – a job she held for just four months.

Ponsatí is little known in Catalonia and few had heard of her until she fled to Brussels with Puigdemont last October.

Her predecessor, Meritxell Ruiz, was one of three ministers purged from Puigdemont’s cabinet because they were unwilling to back the proposed referendum. Officially the three left for personal reasons.

At least five Scottish National party MSPs took part in the protest outside the court, along with Tricia Marwick, the former presiding officer of the Scottish parliament. Marwick, who had been in Barcelona as an observer during last year’s unofficial referendum, said: “Jailing elected politicians is beyond the norms of democracy.

“I think Clara will certainly be inspired, not just today with all these people, but with the crowdfunding crashing through the £100,000 barrier in just four hours.”

Two police officers and an academic who were accompanying Puigdemont at the weekend when he was detained in Germany as he travelled by car from Helsinki to Brussels were arrested on their return to Spain on Wednesday.

Spain’s national court has opened an investigation into whether Carlos de Pedro López and Xabier Goicoeche, both serving members of the Catalan police force, are guilty of concealment or of assisting Puigdemont in evading arrest. The detained academic was Josep Luis Alay Rodríguez.

Puigdemont was detained under the European arrest warrant in the northern German province of Schleswig-Holstein. The German authorities have 60 days in which to reach a decision on the extradition request, which Puigdemont opposed during a hearing on Monday.


Severin Carrell in Edinburgh and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

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