Spain’s court drops sedition charges against separatist leader

Member of European Parliament and outgoing Junts per Catalunya party president Carles Puigdemont applauds with supporters during the Catalan seperatist party Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) congress in Argeles-sur-Mer, southern France, on June 4, 2022. (RAYMOND ROIG / AFP)

MADRID – Spain's Supreme Court on Thursday dropped sedition charges against the leader of Catalonia's failed bid for independence, Carles Puigdemont, after a reform of the country's penal code abolished the crime.

Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium to avoid prosecution in Spain, still faces charges of disobedience and embezzlement, which carry jail terms of up to eight years. Sedition carried a maximum jail term of 15 years.

Puigdemont posted a video on Twitter in which he vowed to fight "to the end" against his extradition in European courts

Spain's previous bids to have Puigdemont extradited during his stays in Germany, Belgium and Italy have failed.

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Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena said in a statement on Thursday he would submit a new extradition request to Belgian authorities for him to face trial on the lesser charges depending on European Union courts' rulings on whether Puigdemont has immunity and whether extradition can be requested multiple times.

Puigdemont posted a video on Twitter in which he vowed to fight "to the end" against his extradition in European courts.

"I will not return in handcuffs nor surrender myself to a Spanish judge's leniency. I will fight to return a free man," he said.

Puigdemont's attorney, Gonzalo Boye, said Llarena had a "fundamental rights and political persecution problem".

"These are my criminal charges. If you don't like them, I have others," Boye added, in a reference to a quote widely attributed to comedian Groucho Marx.

Spain amended its penal code late last year to remove the historic sedition law, under which some separatist politicians were sentenced to up to 13 years in prison after their 2017 bid for the region's independence resulted in a constitutional crisis.

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Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who later pardoned those convicted over the events, said the move should further allay the political conflict between Madrid and the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia.

Opposition parties said it was designed to assure Sanchez's socialist-led coalition of the continued support of independence parties in contentious parliamentary votes.

Puigdemont has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since late 2017 and served as a member of the European Parliament since 2019.