A decision on the extradition process of the exiled former Catalan minister Lluís Puig will be announced on August 7. A first instance Belgian judge held a hearing with the former culture department head on Tuesday, who questioned whether Spain’s Supreme Court was competent to issue a European arrest warrant against him.

In an interview with VilaWeb, Puig explained he was “optimistic” about his case despite the fact that he knows there is a clear political intention behind it. He also hopes the sentence arrives before Spain withdraws the extradition demand, as it has already done in the past.

Spain’s judiciary has so far been unable to achieve the extradition of any of the former Catalan government members who went into exile in October 2017, days after the declaration of independence in the Catalan parliament. The Supreme Court is now trying for a third time for any of the pro-independence leaders to be sent to Spain after two previous failed attempts over the past two and a half years.

Extradition processes suspended

Yet, the third extradition process against former president Carles Puigdemont and ex-ministers Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí have been suspended by the Belgian and Scottish judiciaries because they were elected as MEPs in last year’s European election.

The European parliament accepted them as members only after an EU court verdict, and lawmakers in Brussels are to decide whether to lift their immunity so that the extradition processes continue.

As for Lluís Puig, he is the only official whose European arrest warrant is active, because he isn’t an MEP. In the hearing on Tuesday, his defense argued that his case should be dismissed because the Supreme Court did not have the adequate powers to seek his extradition.

Human rights

Spain’s top court is the one in charge of trying those bearing a high-profile public office, but Puig’s defense argued that when the extradition request was issued, he had already been ousted from power and was no longer a minister – Belgium’s prosecutor, representing the one in Spain, rejects this argument.

The former Catalan culture minister also rejected accusations of misuse of public funds for the October 1, 2017 independence referendum, but instead said that there have been “violations of human rights” in his case.

On August 7, the judge could decide whether Puig’s extradition request is accepted or rejected – although this decision can be appealed twice. The magistrate can also annul the case instead, if they accept that the Supreme Court had no powers to request Puig’s extradition, or if they are hesitant, they could ask the EU court. In this instance, the European Court of Justice will take some months to have its say.

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