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Catalan academic returns to court in extradition battle

Clara Ponsati, who ‘utterly refutes’ the charges against her, attended a preliminary extradition hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

A former Catalan education minister was greeted by flag-waving supporters as she returned to a Scottish court to continue her legal fight against extradition to Spain.

Professor Clara Ponsati 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.

Her solicitor says she could face a total sentence of up to 33 years if she is sent to Spain and convicted of the charges, sparking fears the 61-year-old could spend the rest of her life in jail.

Aamer Anwar accused the Spanish authorities of “abusing” the European Arrest Warrant as “a tool of political repression” and claimed the country is facing “its greatest crisis since the dark days of General Franco”.

Earlier St Andrews University academic Prof Ponsati, who “utterly refutes” the charges against her, attended a preliminary extradition hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Her legal team has now lodged its draft legal submissions ahead of a full two-week hearing set to begin at the end of July.

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Supporters of Clara Ponsati gathered outside Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Jane Barlow/PA)

A further preliminary hearing was set down for June 12, with Sheriff Nigel Ross QC saying he hoped more information on the legal arguments for both sides would be available to the court by that stage.

Further information is to be sought on the charges, namely the Spanish definition of corruption, the court heard.

Gordon Jackson QC, representing Prof Ponsati, said: “Our preparation position is quite advanced. We are beginning to see a number of experts.”

Agents have been to Catalonia and are consulting with a number of experts in London next week, he said.

Sheriff Ross said: “There is… a huge amount of material and a good number of arguments. We need to crystallise what is a live argument and what is not in time before the hearing.”

Addressing Mr Jackson and the Crown, the sheriff added: “My concern is just that the parties understand each other.”

Speaking outside court after the hearing, Mr Anwar said Prof Ponsati will fight the extradition on many grounds.

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Clara Ponsati and her lawyer Aamer Anwar outside Edinburgh Sheriff Court before her preliminary hearing (Jane Barlow/PA)

He added: “Throughout Europe, Spain stands accused of abusing the Arrest Warrant as a tool of political repression.

“The courts can never be solution or alternative to political negotiation.

“Spain today faces its greatest crisis since dark days of General Franco.

“Without the unconditional release of all political prisoners and withdrawal of the European Arrest Warrants there will never be a resolution to the crisis.”

The latest hearing took place after Prof Ponsati, who is now on bail, voluntarily handed herself in to Scottish police in March.

The case has attracted a significant public interest with a crowd waving flags and banners again turning out to show their support opposite the court building.

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