Scottish court dismisses Clara Ponsati extradition case

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Clara PonsatiImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Clara Ponsati has moved to Belgium and says she will not move back to Scotland

A Scottish judge has dismissed extradition proceedings against former Catalan government minister Clara Ponsati.

Sheriff Nigel Ross said it was a "matter for the Spanish authorities" since the academic indicated she would not move back to Scotland from Belgium.

Prof Ponsati faces charges in Spain for her involvement in the unsanctioned Catalonia independence referendum.

Sheriff Ross said: "You can't extradite someone who is not here."

At Edinburgh Sheriff Court, the sheriff ruled that Scottish courts had "no jurisdiction" over the extradition of the former University of St Andrews academic.

He said that extradition in this case was "impractical" as he ended the legal action.

The discharge was not opposed by the Crown's lawyers, although they criticised a "clear breach of the position of trust that (Ms Ponsati) was in" over her apparent failure to tell the court she was resigning her post at St Andrews and moving to Belgium.

Prosecutor John Scott QC said it was "highly unsatisfactory" for Ms Ponsati not to return to Edinburgh for a legal hearing.

He told Edinburgh Sheriff Court that she had broken the bail conditions which allowed her to remain at liberty.

A European arrest warrant was issued for the professor over her role in the 2017 push for independence in Catalonia. She was wanted in Spain on a charge of sedition - the illegal act of inciting people to resist or rebel against a government.

Image source, Jeff J Mitchell
Image caption,
Clara Ponsati handed herself in to police at St Leonards police station in Edinburgh

That warrant was withdrawn but a new one was issued in November 2019.

Shortly afterwards, she was bailed at Edinburgh Sheriff Court after handing herself in to police. She was allowed to keep her passport.

She became an MEP in 2020, after five seats in the European Parliament were given to Spain when the UK left the EU.

This afforded Ms Ponsati, former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and former Catalan health minister Toni Comin, who also became MEPs, protection as members of the EU assembly.

However, in March MEPs voted to lift that immunity.

Ms Ponsati could be sentenced to 15 years behind bars if convicted, with nine other Catalan officials given jail sentences of between nine and 13 years for the same offence in autumn 2019.

In a statement after Thursday's hearing in Edinburgh, Ms Ponsati's solicitor, Aamer Anwar, said: "This morning we appeared at court on Clara's behalf, the court had already anticipated that Clara Ponsati was no longer in Scotland's jurisdiction and it was agreed that she should be discharged as a requested person and these court proceedings for her extradition have finally been brought to an end.

"Clara wishes to thank the many people in Scotland, as well as those across Europe, who have given her so much love, support and solidarity through difficult times and hopes that one day she can return from political exile to her beloved Catalonia."

Mr Anwar said a full case on the MEP's extradition to Spain remains to be heard at the European Court of Justice.

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