Belgium rejects Spanish extradition bid for 3 Catalans

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BRUSSELS / MADRID
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A Brussels court ruled yesterday 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.

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 organizing 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 councilors 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 yesterday.

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 fueled 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.

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