Belgian court releases former ministers Comín and Puig without bail while it considers the European Arrest Warrants

Both handed themselves in to the authorities yesterday at noon

As expected, former Catalan government ministers Toni Comín and Lluís Puig were released without bail this Thursday afternoon after appearing before a judge following the reactivation of the third European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Spain’s Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena. The Belgian court released the pair without bail on the sole condition that they seek permission should they wish to leave the country, as it did with the former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont. This is the first step following the issuing of an EAW. The next step is for a court to investigate the matter, though a court date has not yet been set. Nevertheless, the defence teams expect they will be informed some time next week.

The former ministers in exile spent around four hours in the courthouse after appearing at a police station at midday. When they left, their lawyer declared that it was now up to a judge from the Court of First Instance of Brussels to determine how to proceed with the case, keeping in mind that two different EAWs have been issued, one involving Carles Puigdemont and another involving the former ministers. Comín and Puig’s defence lawyer will try to have their clients’ case heard in conjunction with that of the former president, who already has an initial court date set for 16 December, after having requested an adjournment.

Upon leaving the court, Lluís Puig, the former Culture minister declared, "We have voluntarily handed ourselves in to the authorities for the third time; they are already aware of the case and we have done so with relative peace of mind". In a similar vein, former Health minister, Toni Comín, told reporters that, "it’s the third time that a Belgian judge has let us walk free, which gives you an idea of the difference between the two justice systems". It should be remembered that in May 2018, a Belgian court rejected a warrant for Puigdemont, Comín, Serret and Puig due to procedural irregularities.

The defence lawyers representing the two former ministers in exile also made it clear that in order to fight the EAW they will use statements made by the acting Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez, who said on Wednesday that the Spanish State controls the Prosecutor’s Office, as well as similar statements made by other members of the Spanish cabinet. They will also use the decision by the British authorities who have rejected Clara Ponsati’s extradition for the time being. According to Comín, these statements strengthen one of the arguments which forms part of his defence: "Sánchez's words provide us with more evidence as to the absence of the separation of powers and the poor quality of Spanish democracy".

Toni Comín has also claimed parliamentary immunity, as did former President Carles Puigdemont, for having been elected an MEP, although at the time the Belgian judge accepted the Supreme Court’s argument that such immunity is not relevant, meaning the case will move along. Nevertheless, both Puigdemont and Comín will base part of their defence on the case which is about to be heard by a judge concerning their parliamentary immunity. They also hope to ensure that the Belgian courts will submit a preliminary question to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJUE) which will further delay the process, as occurred in the case against Valtònyc, for example.

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