IN another major setback for the Spanish Government, the German court that refused to extradite Carles Puigdemont on rebellion charges has now questioned if the ousted Catalan president can be handed over to Spain on the lesser charge of misuse of public funds.

In an interim ruling published yesterday, the higher court in Schleswig raised doubts over claims that he misused €1.6 million (£1.39m) of public funds during the Catalan independence referendum last October. It has now asked Spain for further information to back up its case but warned that the submission it has made so far is “not yet” sufficient to justify Puigdemont’s extradition.

The court’s decision last week not to extradite the pro-independence leader was a major blow to Spanish President Mariano Rajoy’s Government and could strain relations between Berlin and Madrid.

German Social Democratic MP Rolf Mutzenich compared the Spanish judiciary with those in Turkey and Poland, which have faced criticism for their perceived erosion of judicial independence.

In an interview with the German daily Handelsblatt, Mutzenich said: “The Spanish Government should accept that German courts are independent. Given the recent experience with Turkish, Spanish or Polish justice, the [German] government should reflect whether the European and international arrest warrants still guarantee a fair process and meets the principle of democracy and rule of law.”

Puigdemont was arrested last month on a European Arrest Warrant issued by Spain as he made his way back to his Belgian exile from Finland. He was released on Friday pending a ruling on his extradition and has is now living in Berlin.

Speaker of the Catalan parliament, Roger Torrent, meanwhile, has set the inauguration of imprisoned cultural leader and independence activist Jordi Sanchez as president for Friday morning.

Torrent has written to the Spanish Supreme Court giving notice of the session and the resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, urging Spain to “take all necessary measures” to guarantee Sanchez his political rights.

In the letter, he says the granting of precautionary measures by the UN committee implies that the necessary mechanisms be enabled to allow Sanchez into the investiture debate. It also warns that Spain would not fulfil its international obligations should it fail to comply with the resolution.

In Barcelona yesterday, Spain’s King Felipe, who angered many with his stance against Catalan independence, defended the work of the state’s judges – in the presence Pablo Llarena, the Supreme Court judge responsible for charging 13 pro-independence supporters over the secession bid.

The monarch told a ceremony for new judges: “I am aware, and we all are, of the difficulty and great responsibility which your role involves. You can always count on the confidence and support of the Crown.”

Llarena is the judge who will decide later this week whether Sanchez can leave jail to be sworn in as president.

As Felipe delivered his speech, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside chanting: “Freedom for political prisoners.”

One protester burned a picture of the king – an alleged offence that has been dealt with severely by court in the past.

Neither Torrent no Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau were not invited to the event in what was seen as a breach of protocol. However, there were many empty seats in L’Auditori de Barcelona, including some that had been reserved for representatives of the Catalan judiciary.