A fresh setback for Spanish justice in its bid to obtain the extradition of the Catalan exiles in the wake of the verdict in the case of the independence leaders. On Wednesday UK police decided not to certify the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued on Tuesday by Spain’s Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena against former Catalan Education Minister Clara Ponsatí. The UK SIRENE Bureau has decided not to take any action at this point because it believes that the EAW “is disproportionate under UK law”. That is a quote straight from the document sent via SIRENE, the police system by which EAWs are communicated, which this newspaper has had access to. Sources within Spain’s Supreme Court and ministry of the Interior claim that the UK police authorities have “overstepped their powers” by actually discussing the reasons for Ponsatí’s arrest, as that should be for the judge to decide.
EAWs are submitted through two channels: the police —which has just dismissed Spain’s request temporarily— and from the Spanish court to its foreign counterpart (British, in the case at hand), who has the authority to rule over Clara Ponsatí’s personal situation. The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) is the British equivalent of SIRENE (Supplementary Information Request at the National Entry) and its role is to “assess the proportionality and legal validity of EAW requests into and out of the UK”. And any “EAW requests which are not validated are returned to the requesting authority for further action”; in this case, a request for further information from Madrid. It is not NCA’s role “to look at the evidence a warrant is based on or decide if an extradition is ordered. In the UK, these are decided by the court”.
The note sent by the British police explains that the EAW “has been reviewed by a specialist UK lawyer on behalf of the National Crime Agency” who has determined that it is disproportionate under UK law. Hence the request for further information from the Spanish authorities: “if you any information concerning [Ponsatí’s] previous offending history, or any other information relating to the seriousness of the offence, please provide it to the NCA and we will re-evaluate our decision not to certify this EAW”.
“No democratic judge would extradite me”
Ponsatí first heard the news from media while she was in her office at the University of St Andrews on Wednesday afternoon. Speaking to this newspaper’s London correspondent over Skype, Ponsatí said that “this could be good news, once it is confirmed; but all I know for sure is that Thursday’s hearing has been cancelled, as clarification is needed”. She added that the new EAW issued against her has nothing to do with the election campaign in Spain: “I don’t think the court is especially keen to help out Pedro Sánchez on the campaign trail. European Arrest Warrants are issued matter-of-factly by Spain’s Supreme Court’s machinery and it was to be expected, once the verdict was announced [in the case of the Catalan independence leaders]”.
At any rate, after studying the EAW herself Professor Ponsatí believes there are grounds to request clarification. “It is sixty pages long. I ran a search for my name and it first crops up on page 27, together with the names of the whole cabinet who signed off on the government order calling the referendum. The second time is on page 34, next to [my colleague] Dolors Bassa, when we took direct responsibility over the polling stations for the referendum weekend. From then on, my name does not appear again until the arrest warrants are mentioned. In other words, my name only comes up twice when the events are being described, for two things which are politically arguable but that cannot be construed as a crime at all”.
On this point Ponsatí remains convinced that “no democratic court would ever hand me over, in Scotland or elsewhere in western Europe. And I would even include France, at the moment. No independent court would lend any credence to Spain’s case. I don’t know whether they can put pressure on a judge, but Scotland is a truly favourable space. It’s not just that judges are fair and independent: the social atmosphere —which obviously has a bearing on a court’s stand— is totally favourable to self-determination. And what’s happened in Spain is mind-boggling, they cannot understand it”.
The exiles’ defence teams have always been confident about the police and judicial authorities in Belgium and Scotland and, therefore, announced that their clients would cooperate fully in the coming days, as Carles Puigdemont had done a few weeks earlier. Ponsatí intended to appear in court on Thursday, but the hearing has been postponed for now as Spain is expected to provide clarification. A new hearing date has been pencilled in for November 14 at 11 am.
Ponsatí’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, issued a statement about the decision of the British authorities where he explained that the English translation of the EAW had arrived in the UK on Wednesday morning and that the authorities have asked for further clarification. Anwar believes that the EAW includes “contradictions”, it is chaotic and “arrogant” because the 59-page long document “only mentions Ponsatí twice, without specifying her role [in the events]”, and the statement “mentions rebellion and sedition” while his client faces a charge of sedition only.
PM Sánchez’s words provide ammunition for the exiles’ defence
Anwar also mentions the words by Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez on the subject of Puigdemont’s extradition. Clara Ponsatí’s Scottish lawyer warns that his team are assessing the Spanish leader’s “harsh statement” when he assured that “the public prosecutor in the extradition process was doing the Spanish government’s bidding”. Anwar believes that a statement like that “makes a complete joke” of Spain’s claims to separation of powers. The defence team of the exiles in Belgium have also warned that they are having Sánchez’s words translated, as well as similar statements by other members of incumbent Spanish government, in order to argue their opposition to the EAW issued against Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Lluís Puig.
During a recent election debate on Spanish TV, PM Sánchez vowed to secure Carles Puigdemont’s extradition to Spain, a process which is now in the hands of a Belgian court. Spanish VP Calvo warned Belgium that their failure to hand over Puigdemont would prompt Spain to “take decisions”. To make matters worse, on Wednesday Pedro Sánchez stated that Spain’s Public Prosecutor reports to his government. When asked by his interviewer what they were doing to secure the return of Carles Puigdemont, the Spanish premier answered that the Public Prosecutor had issued a fresh EAW, which the Supreme Court has processed. When Sánchez was repeatedly asked about the role of his government in the affair, the Spanish PM asked: “Who does the Prosecutor report to? Who?”. His interviewer replied: “To the Spanish government?” and the PM added: “Well, enough said”.
After hearing the news about Ponsatí, Catalan president Quim Torra slammed Spain and its justice system. He said that “Spain and its justice system are an utter embarrassment worldwide”.