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Spanish judge withdraws European arrest warrant for former Catalan leader Puigdemont
Last Updated: 2017-12-06 08:02 | Xinhua
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Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont (C) addresses a press conference at the Press Club Europe in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 31, 2017. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)

Spanish Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena on Tuesday confirmed a decision to withdraw the European arrest warrant which was issued for former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four former members of his government in November.

The warrant was originally issued after Puigdemont and Antonio Comin, Lluis Puig, Meritxell Serret and Clara Ponsati travelled to Belgium in the wake of the Catalan unilateral declaration of independence on Oct. 27.

Puigdemont and his associates were due to appear in a Belgian court on Dec. 14, coincidentally, when Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is in Brussels for a meeting ofEuropean Union(EU) leaders.

The five still face Spanish arrest warrants and would be arrested on their return toSpainwhere they would face charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds and, in Puigdemont's case, disobedience.

The explanation Llarena gave for his decision was that the crime of "rebellion," which carries a possible prison sentence of 30 years, does not exist in Belgium, meaning that if Puigdemont was returned to Spain by the Belgian authorities, it would be to face the lesser charge of misuse of public funds and the Spanish court would not be able to try him for the more serious offense.

The decision comes on the first day of the campaign for the Catalan regional elections to be held on Dec. 21. Puigdement is running as the candidate for the Junts Per Catalunya party, despite his exile.

There is no doubt that if Puigdemont had been deported to Spain during the election campaign and presumably sent to prison, as the other former members of his government have been, it would have been a key factor in the election.

On Monday, the Spanish Supreme Court denied bail to Puigdemont's former deputy Oriol Junqueras, former interior spokesman Joaquim Form and Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart of the pro-independence cultural groups, ANC and Omnium Cultural, although a bail of 100,000 euros (118,000 U.S. dollars) was granted to six former members of Puigdemont's government, who have been in prison since Nov. 2.

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