MADRID (AP) — A Spanish judge has dropped sedition charges against former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont for his role in the region’s illegal secession push in 2017 that brought Spain’s most serious political crisis for decades.
Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena took the step, which also included four other Catalan separatists involved in the events of 2017, because changes to Spain’s sedition law that have taken effect mean it no longer covers their alleged wrongdoing, the court said in a statement Thursday.
However, the judge maintained the charges of embezzlement and disobedience, the court said.
That means that Puigdemont and his associates who fled the country five years ago would still have to stand trial if they return, albeit for crimes that carry a lower sentence. Puigdemont lives in Belgium where he is a European Parliament member.
Spanish government efforts to extradite him have failed so far, and it’s unclear if the changes made by Llarena could increase the chances of him being sent back by Belgian officials.
Last month, Spanish lawmakers approved controversial reforms to the crimes of sedition and embezzlement in a move by Spain’s ruling center-left coalition to retain the parliamentary support of a pro-independence Catalan party and ease tensions in the wealthy northeastern region.
Sedition and embezzlement were among the main charges against nine of 12 pro-independence Catalan activists and politicians who were convicted over their roles in a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain issued on Oct. 27, 2017, following an illegal secession referendum earlier that month.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez issued partial pardons of the nine separatists last year, releasing them from prison in Spain after they had spent three years behind bars serving sentences that ranged between nine and 15 years.