Belgian court delays Catalan leader's extradition hearing

Carles Puigdemont may be entitled to immunity as a member of the European Parliament.

    Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont joined by former Catalan regional ministers Antoni Comin and Lluis Puig after Monday's hearing at the Justice Palace in Brussels [Yves Herman/Reuters]
    Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont joined by former Catalan regional ministers Antoni Comin and Lluis Puig after Monday's hearing at the Justice Palace in Brussels [Yves Herman/Reuters]

    A Belgian court has delayed making a decision on whether to extradite former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to Spain until next year.

    A new hearing in his case will now take place on February 3, 2020, once the European Court of Justice has ruled on the legal status of Puigdemont, who could be granted immunity following his election as a European Union parliamentarian earlier this year.

    More:

    "It's now first up to the European court in Luxembourg to clarify all the issues concerning the immunity questions because of the election of the European Parliament," his lawyer, Simon Bekaert, told reporters after Monday's hearing at the court in Brussels.

    Puigdemont and a number of his associates fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing arrest over the secessionist push he led and the holding of an independence referendum that the Spanish government said was illegal.

    191026160251189

    Puigdemont handed himself in to Belgian justice authorities in October. Spain had issued a warrant for his arrest following the sentencing of 12 of his former colleagues.

    He was elected as an MEP in May but has not been able to take his seat. He has launched a legal challenge at the ECJ to be able to do so, and on Monday Puigdemont said he had faith in European justice.

    The judges "must do their work, free of pressures, and decide what they must decide. We will analyse it and see what consequences we can draw," he told reporters.

    The "yes" vote won a landslide victory in the Catalan independence referendum, during which hundreds of people were injured in a police crackdown. But those in favour of the northern region remaining part of Spain largely abstained from the vote which Spain's central government in Madrid had declared illegal and unconstitutional.

    Subsequent regional elections have indicated Catalonia is evenly split between those in favour and those against independence.

    Puigdemont, a former journalist, was elected to Catalonia's parliament in 2006 representing Girona, a city in northeast Spain north of Barcelona. 

    Puigdemont became the mayor of Girona, but stood down when elected to Catalonia's presidency in 2016. He was the first of the region's presidents to refuse to swear allegiance to the Spanish constitution and king.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies