Wolfgang Schomburg: 'This was never a matter for criminal law'
Puigdemont's lawyer in Germany celebrates withdrawal of European Arrests Warrants and urges Spain to take a "reasonable approach" and drop the whole case
Wolfgang Schomburg is the German lawyer of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. Since March, he has defended the Catalan leader against a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Spain that could have seen him facing up to 30 years in prison for rebellion and misuse of public funds.
In an unexpected move, the Spanish Supreme Court dropped the extradition orders altogether for Puigdemont and five other pro-independence leaders seeking refuge abroad. Judge Pablo Llarena withdrew the arrest warrants on Thursday, a week after a German court rejected extraditing Puigdemont for rebellion, and only accepting the possibility of sending him back to Spain for the alleged misuse of public funds.
Puigdemont and his colleagues are now free to move around Europe—except for Spain, where they are still at risk of immediate arrest. There are currently nine pro-independence leaders preemptively jailed in Catalonia for calling a referendum and declaring independence last October.
Are you satisfied with Spain's decision to withdraw the European Arrest Warrant?
Yes. But as we said from the very beginning, from our perspective it was never a matter for criminal law. Criminal law is the ultimate, the last possible tool to reach a goal, and when there is an internal political conflict in a country, then it must be resolved by political means but never by means of criminal law.
"The vast majority of Germans were in favor of Mr Puigdemont. It was very hard to digest why it was a criminal matter when it was about self-determination"
Wolfgang Schomburg · German lawyer
Puigdemont can now travel anywhere in the world… except for Spain.
I hope that, in the near future, it will be possible for him to also return to Spain. This would also mean that on the Spanish level the reasonable approach will have been taken. It's impossible to resolve such a question by criminal law.
This was a high-profile case in your country. How did Germans see it?
The vast majority of Germans were in favor of Mr Puigdemont. It was very hard to digest why it was a criminal matter when it was about self-determination and a person having done what a majority in the region wanted.
The Spanish Supreme Court judge has accused German judges of a "lack of commitment" and thinks they made a "wrong decision."
It's not normal, to say it politely, for judges in one European area of law to dispute the decisions of other judges. It follows from the EAW system that there are indeed some crimes, such as embezzlement, when extradition is automatic, but in others it is a must to check whether the act is also punishable under the law of the country dealing with the request. That is here, in Germany.
In this case, whether the accusation of rebellion would have happened in Germany as well…
After a really serious debate and litigation, the judges came to the conclusion that no. It is a matter of the right to demonstration, the right to come together, to speak in public and bring opinion to the attention of other people. It cannot become criminal simply because there were 2 million supporting it.
Puigdemont's case has been handled by a court in Schleswig-Holstein. Would the verdict have been different had his case been taken up by a different court?
He always acted peacefully and called for peaceful demonstrations. This can never be punishable in Germany, and therefore, it was mandatory for the judges to decide this way. I would say no other court in Germany would have come to another conclusion.