Will Belgium hand Carles Puigdemont over to Spain?

Extradition of the Catalan leader could take years, in a case that might test the limits of the trust between the EU partners

The ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s decision to defy a Spanish court summons and remain in Brussels will trigger an extradition dispute that could run for months, if not years.

The state prosecutor’s request for Puigdemont to be detained under the European arrest warrant (EAW) will initiate a procedure designed to speed up the handover of criminal suspects between EU states.

But any decision by a lower tribunal in Belgium can be appealed up through the higher courts, lengthening the legal process while straining relations between EU member states.

The aim of the EAW system was to do away with political interference in controversial extradition cases. It only requires that the criminal offence for which anyone is extradited must carry a maximum penalty of at least one year in prison in another EU state.

The categories of criminal offences covered are very broad and there is no legal precondition that an identical offence must exist in both of the countries involved. The EAW does not provide for refusal to extradite on the grounds that the suspect has claimed political asylum.

It does, however, allow a country to refuse to hand over a suspect on the grounds that he or she is being sought on the basis of their “sex, race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, language, political opinions or sexual orientation”.

The process will also be subject to approval by judges in Belgium, the surrendering country, that the extradition is “proportional” to the seriousness of the offence and the costs of removing the individual.

The London-based organisation Fair Trials has campaigned to remove abuses within the EAW system such as some countries’ excessive use of pre-trial detention once a suspect has been extradited.

Andrew Smith, an extradition specialist at the London law firm Corker Binning said: “If a Spanish European arrest warrant is issued for Mr Puigdemont and his former ministers, the key questions for the Belgian extradition court are likely to be whether the criminal allegations are politically motivated and whether the Spanish authorities are acting abusively.

“Mutual trust is a central tenet of how the European arrest warrant operates between EU member states, but this extraordinary case looks set to test the limits of that trust.”

Given an inventive legal team, the process could, technically, be slowed by repeated appeals to higher courts. Julian Assange resisted a European arrest warrant in Britain for almost two years before fleeing to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he remains.

Belgium used to have legislation that prevented extradition of its nationals. Perhaps the UK, which has not yet formally secured its place within a post-Brexit European arrest warrant system, might one day prove an attractive destination for Catalan fugitives?


Contributor

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
European arrest warrant issued for ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont
Spanish judge’s move comes day after former members of Catalan cabinet remanded in custody over region’s independence push

Sam Jones in Madrid and Daniel Boffey in Brussels

03, Nov, 2017 @9:54 PM

Article image
Exiled in Belgium, has Carles Puigdemont met his Waterloo?
The former Catalan leader must choose between irrelevance and potential sedition charges

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

02, Mar, 2018 @12:51 PM

Article image
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont ignores Madrid's ultimatum
Puigdemont refuses to clarify whether he has actually declared independence and reiterates his call for talks

Sam Jones in Madrid

16, Oct, 2017 @8:25 AM

Article image
Spanish court drops international warrant for Carles Puigdemont
Decision means former Catalan president and colleagues no longer face extradition threat

Sam Jones in Madrid and Severin Carrell in Scotland

19, Jul, 2018 @3:11 PM

Article image
Spanish spies 'tracked Carles Puigdemont via friend's phone'
Intelligence agents tracked movements of former Catalan president before he was detained in Germany, according to reports

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

27, Mar, 2018 @11:30 AM

Article image
Catalonia crisis: deposed leader Puigdemont says he'll respect elections
In latest twist to independence drama, Carles Puigdemont tells press conference in Brussels he will return home if fair judicial process is guaranteed

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

31, Oct, 2017 @6:06 PM

Article image
Exclusive: Puigdemont vows to lead Catalan government in exile
Fugitive says his ‘Council of the Republic’ will continue drive for independence from Belgium

Owen Bowcott in Brussels and Sam Jones in Madrid

02, Mar, 2018 @4:45 PM

Article image
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont remanded in custody in Germany
German authorities have 60 days in which to decide on Spain’s extradition request

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona and Philip Oltermann in Berlin

26, Mar, 2018 @6:33 PM

Article image
Carles Puigdemont: court rejects new bid to arrest Catalan ex-president
Supreme court turns down request from Spanish prosecutors to reactivate international warrant

Sam Jones in Madrid

22, Jan, 2018 @1:27 PM

Article image
Puigdemont abandons bid to reclaim Catalan presidency
Leader of independence bid backs JxCat MP Jordi Sànchez, currently in custody on suspicion of sedition

Sam Jones in Madrid and Owen Bowcott in Brussels

01, Mar, 2018 @7:45 PM