Former Catalan minister in extradition battle arrested

A former Catalan minister facing extradition to Spain has thanked supporters as she handed herself over to police.

Professor Clara Ponsati, the ex-Catalan education minister, is being sought by the authorities in Madrid on charges of "violent rebellion and misappropriation of public funds" over her role in Catalonia's controversial independence referendum last year.

She refutes the charges and will embark on a legal fight to resist the attempts to have her returned Spain.

Her lawyer says she views the charges - which could attract a jail term of up to 30 years - as "political persecution" and believes that her human rights cannot be guaranteed in Spain.

Scottish-based Prof Ponsati attended a police station in Edinburgh voluntarily on Wednesday morning after she was made the subject of a European arrest warrant last week.

She was placed under arrest and formally had the European Arrest Warrant read to her.

The academic is then due to appear from custody at an initial extradition hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court later on Wednesday.

Bail will be sought and a full hearing on the extradition request is expected to be held several weeks down the line.

Outside the police station her solicitor, Aamer Anwar, said: "Clara remains defiant, resolute and is determined to fight back.

"She wants to thank the many hundreds of thousands of ordinary people especially in Scotland who have shown her such love and support.

"She is truly humbled by the unconditional support from students, colleagues and the principal at St Andrews University.

"Clara wishes to thank Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Government and politicians for their solidarity. Scotland has been a true friend to Catalonia in her darkest hours.

"However it is absolutely right that the independence of the judiciary in Scotland is respected and that no Government should ever interfere in that process. Clara accepts her fate now lies in the hands of the Scottish Justice system."

A group of supporters gathered at the police station as Prof Ponsati and her lawyer spoke to the media (Jane Barlow/PA)
A group of supporters gathered at the police station as Prof Ponsati and her lawyer spoke to the media (Jane Barlow/PA)

Prof Ponsati returned to Scotland earlier in March having been in Belgium since fleeing Spain with Catalonia's ex-leader Carles Puigdemont and three other former cabinet members, following an unsuccessful bid to declare independence from Spain in October.

She had resumed working at the University of St Andrews in Fife.

But a Spanish judge issued arrest warrants on Friday for Prof Ponsati and the other fugitive politicians including Mr Puigdemont, who was detained by police in Germany.

A crowdfunding drive to raise money for Prof Ponsati's extradition defence reached £100,000 just over two hours after it was launched on Wednesday morning.

Please RT, share & contribute 2 my crowdfunder - Later on this morning I will attend police station with my lawyer @AamerAnwar & will b arrested & taken 2court as Spain tries 2extradite me, I need ur support #DefendClara#Catalonia?https://t.co/9wQKd4ZeW4 ... pic.twitter.com/TM0tL3t7mQ

-- Clara Ponsatí (@ClaraPonsati) March 28, 2018

On Monday, a group of protesters congregated outside the Spanish consulate in Edinburgh to demonstrate against the arrest warrant and the actions of the Spanish Government.

At the police station on Wednesday Xavier Oliver was one of a number of people who turned up to show support for Prof Ponsati.

The 35-year-old software engineer from Catalonia said: "The Spanish Government is using this excuse to put people in jail and let them rot.

"They should tackle the problem politically. In their minds putting people in jail  on ridiculous charges is enough to change the minds of two million people."

A Police Scotland spokesman said: "We can confirm that this morning, Wednesday March 28 2018, Clara Ponsati attended St Leonard's Police Station in Edinburgh voluntarily with her solicitor where she was arrested on a European Arrest Warrant.

"The contents of the warrant were read to her and she has been detained in police custody to appear before Edinburgh Sheriff Court this afternoon."

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