AN appeal court in Brussels has upheld a ruling rejecting an extradition request from Spain for a former Catalan minister over his involvement in the indyref three years ago.

Lluis Puig, who was Catalonia’s culture minister, was alleged to have misused public funds during the 2017 campaign.

His lawyers said the Belgian judges believed the Supreme Court did not have the authority to try him, and had raised fears that his presumption of innocence was at risk in Spain.

Spain had issued European arrest warrants against Puig, former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and former ministers Clara Ponsati and Toni Comin for their part in the independence bid. All their cases have now been dismissed.

Puig tweeted after yesterday’s decision: “There’s no extradition … enough ideological persecution and enough repression.”

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Much has happened since the poll that was deemed illegal – nine other pro-indy leaders were sentenced in 2019 to a total of nearly 100 years for their part in it; Puigdemont, Ponsati and Comin have become MEPs, albeit in exile. The trio are awaiting the outcome of a petition against them by Spain’s Supreme Court, which is expected next week.

Belgian authorities said the Spanish court was not the competent body to demand Puig’s extradition, and the magistrate cited a resolution from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which the Supreme Court had previously considered similarly incompetent in October.

The Belgian ruling is another blow for Spanish judge Pablo Llarena, the bete noir of the Catalan indy movement and the man responsible for issuing the warrants.

However, it may not be the end of this fight – Spain has 24 hours to appeal against the finding in the court of cassation.

This body rules on questions of law and could be asked to decide if Belgium’s judicial processes have been correctly interpreted and carried out.

When Belgium last denied Puig’s extradition, Javier Zaragoza, one of the prosecutors in the proceedings, said the decision was “completely arbitrary and unfounded”, and the ex-minister should have been extradited.

However, Gonzalo Boye, one of Puig’s lawyers, told a news conference after yesterday’s court ruling: “This is a very good decision for the other defendants in the trial, because it shows that they have not been subjected to fair trials.”