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Spain’s Amnesty Law Faces Legal Delays, No Separatists Have Benefited Yet

Spain's amnesty law faces legal delays, separatists yet to benefit

Catalan separatists are frustrated by what they see as an unjust delay in applying the amnesty.


Three weeks after being approved by the Spanish parliament, an amnesty law for Catalan separatists involved in 2017’s failed separatist movement has been mired in a legal battle and has yet to benefit anyone.

Judges are expected to apply the law within two months of final approval of the bill on May 30. The law is expected to affect around 400 people, including former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

The aim was to quash arrest warrants and criminal charges against separatists while appeals against the amnesty law were heard in higher courts, a process that could take years.

But courts must decide whether to apply amnesty on a case-by-case basis, a lengthy and cumbersome process.

“Political leaders and parliamentarians are the masters of making the laws, but legal scholars are the masters of applying them,” Alfons Lopez Tena, a former pro-independence member of the Catalan parliament and legal scholar, wrote in a recent article for legal news site Confirégar.

He added: “If a judge determines that the law, or one of its provisions, violates European law, the judge can decide on his own not to apply it, without the need for an appeal or a preliminary hearing.”

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who had previously opposed the law, agreed to grant amnesty in exchange for support from Catalan separatist parties in parliament.

The support was crucial to his chances of winning re-election for another four-year term following an inconclusive general election in July 2023.

Political crisis

The most prominent beneficiary of the amnesty is expected to be Petitdemont, who fled Spain shortly after the independence movement and now divides his time between Belgium and France.

When Puigdemont was leader of the Catalan region, his government forced through an independence referendum on October 1, 2017, despite being banned by a Spanish court.

A few weeks later, the Catalan parliament made a symbolic declaration of independence, leading the central government to impose direct rule on the region.

The incident sparked Spain’s biggest political crisis since the death of dictator Francisco Franco and the beginning of democracy in 1975.

Puigdemont has said he wants to return to Spain immediately, but an arrest warrant remains out and a Spanish court is continuing to investigate him on charges of embezzlement and disobedience linked to the separatist movement.

He also remains under investigation on suspicion of terrorism offences relating to protests in 2019 against the jailing of several separatist leaders involved in the sometimes violent referendum.

The judge decided that the arrest warrant would remain valid until questions about the legality of the amnesty law were resolved by a higher court.

“Legal adventure”

There is also disagreement over whether the amnesty should cover embezzlement, one of the main crimes linked to the separatist movement.

The issue is one of interpretation: under the law, the amnesty applies if the money was used to fund a pro-independence process, but not if it was used for personal gain.

Spain’s chief prosecutor, Alvaro Garcia Ortiz, has argued the pardon applies to all crimes, including embezzlement, but the four prosecutors handling Puigdemont’s case disagree.

Prosecutors voted Tuesday by 19 votes in favor and 17 against in favor of Garcia-Ortiz.

However, the amnesty law stipulates that the judge will decide on “application to each specific case,” so the final decision lies with the judge.

Catalan separatists are frustrated by the delay in applying the amnesty, which they see as unjust.

Mr Puigdemont’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boyle, wrote to the Court of Auditors – the body responsible for reviewing public expenditure – asking it to quash the proceedings against Mr Puigdemont over funds allegedly used by the Catalan government for the separatist movement “without further delay or legal action”.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)