BERLIN: The former Catalan president living in exile can be extradited to Spain, a German court has ruled.
Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium days after the region’s abortive declaration of independence from Spain in October and was eventually arrested in Germany.
The German court approved his extradition to face Spanish charges of misuse of public funds but not the graver charge of rebellion.
German prosecutors must now decide on whether he will be handed over.
They have already indicated they will extradite him.
Mr Puigdemont pledged: “We will fight until the end, and we will win!”
He described the decision of the court not to endorse the more serious charge of rebellion as a victory, saying he had “defeated the main lie” of the Spanish state.
He was arrested in Schleswig-Holstein, northern Germany, in March on a European Arrest Warrant after crossing the Danish border on his way back to Belgium by car from a visit to Finland.
Bailed in April, he has frequently been reported to be in Berlin, and his Twitter profile lists his location as Hamburg.
Mr Puigdemont’s legal team told Reuters news agency he would appeal against any extradition decision.
If Thursday’s decision stands, Spain’s courts will be unable to put him on trial for rebellion against the government, a charge faced by fellow separatists.
While the charge of rebellion carries a sentence of up to 25 years, the maximum sentence for misuse of public funds is eight.
Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region of Spain with a long history and a distinct cultural identity.
As its regional president, Mr Puigdemont was the central figure in the 1 October vote which saw 90% vote for independence – but with a turnout of just 43%.
Madrid refused to accept the result, leading to a major political crisis. More than three weeks later, the Catalan parliament formally declared independence.
Spain’s government instituted direct rule over the region, fired its leaders and called snap elections.
Charges of rebellion against independence leaders followed, prompting Mr Puigdemont’s self-imposed exile to Belgium.
Nine of his colleagues remain in prison in Spain facing similar charges.
After Thursday’s ruling, Mr Puigdemont tweeted: “Every minute that our companions spend in prison is a minute of shame and injustice.”
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez – who has been more open to dialogue on Catalonia than his predecessor Mariano Rajoy – said Spain respected the German court’s judgement.
But equally, he said, those involved in the independence campaign “must be judged by the Spanish courts.”
“This will not be resolved in a day, two months or five months,” he said, adding that “much dedication” and patience would be needed to deal with Catalonia’s situation.
In Catalonia, direct rule from Madrid was only lifted last month, with Mr Puigdemont stepping aside as leader in favour of a close ally, Quim Torra.
Mr Torra has declared his regional government will continue to pursue independence for a Catalan republic.__BBC