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Spain court drops 'terrorism' probe into Catalan separatist leader

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Spain court drops 'terrorism' probe into Catalan separatist leader
A demonstrator holds a figure depicting Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont during a protest called by right-wing opposition against an amnesty bill for people involved with Catalonia's failed 2017 independence bid, in front of the PSOE (Spain's Socialist Party) headquarters in Madrid. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Spain's Supreme Court on Tuesday closed a "terrorism" investigation into Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled abroad in 2017 to avoid prosecution over that year's failed independence bid.

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The move removes another legal obstacle blocking the return of the controversial Catalan politician who is hoping to benefit from a new amnesty law for those wanted over the botched secession.

In a statement, the court said the case was closed due to a procedural error by the investigating judge who failed to meet a deadline for extending the probe.

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The decision can be appealed.

Puigdemont had hoped to benefit from the newly-minted amnesty law passed by Spain's parliament at the end of May in a bid to draw a line under years of efforts to prosecute those involved in the failed secession bid that triggered Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

Since fleeing in 2017, Puigdemont has been wanted by the Spanish justice system on a string of charges, including disobedience and misuse of public funds.

Although the disobedience charge has been dropped, the Supreme Court said this week the law would not cover misuse of public funds charge because of two exceptions: funds used for personal gain and EU money.

Back in February, the court announced a new probe into Puigdemont for "terrorism offences" over a string of mass street protests in 2019 following the conviction of 13 separatists who had been arrested and tried over the separatist bid.

Organised by a secretive pro-independence group called Democratic Tsunami, the protests involved a mass action in which thousands of activists blocked access to Barcelona airport for several hours.

At the time, the investigating judge said he believed Puigdemont and other separatist leaders were the guiding hands behind Democratic Tsunami and its "street terrorism".

Puigdemont is also wanted on charges of high treason, another offence that does not fall within the scope of the amnesty law.

Blocking the amnesty for Puigdemont could complicate life of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez who promoted the measure in exchange for the separatist parties' parliamentary support to secure a new term in office.

After the law passed on May 30, judges were given two months to apply the legislation by annulling the charges and cancelling any arrest warrants against the separatists, affecting some 400 people.

But courts must apply the amnesty on a case-by-case basis, making it a long and drawn-out process, while many judges have made no secret of their reluctance to apply the law, with many openly opposed to it.

The amnesty law sparked months of angry right-wing street protests and caused deep rifts within Spanish society, even within Sanchez's own ruling Socialist party.

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