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Scottish extradition case against Catalan ex-minister set for July

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - A full hearing in Scotland of Spain’s extradition case against former Catalan education minister Clara Ponsati will take place in July, when she will argue that the charges against her for helping organise a Catalan independence referendum are unfounded, her lawyer said on Thursday.

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Ponsati, 61, a professor at Scotland’s University of St Andrews, is one of several former leaders of Catalonia’s regional government being sought by Spain in different European countries for alleged violent rebellion and embezzlement.

The charges are linked to the organisation of an independence referendum aimed at splitting the wealthy northeastern region from Spain last October, illegal under a constitution which only recognises Spain itself as a nation.

Ponsati’s lawyers will argue her rights cannot be guaranteed in Spain, because her politics jar with the Madrid government.

Spain’s government denies this and has argued that Catalan leaders knew the law and its consequences before they set up the banned vote.

Sheriff Nigel Ross, who oversaw a preliminary hearing on Thursday, said the case involved a complex examination of evidence as well as overlaps with a foreign jurisdiction. It will now go to a full, two-week hearing on July 30, with more preliminary hearings set for May 15 and July 5.

Ponsati’s human rights cannot be guaranteed under Spain’s legal system, her lawyer Aamer Anwar will argue.

“She is accused of orchestrating violence yet the warrant fails to specify in over 19 pages a single act of violence or incitement attributable to her,” he told reporters.

“Spain has systematically abused the process of the extradition treaty to set out allegations which they know cannot amount to crimes in their courts,” he added.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has defended the fairness of the Spanish judiciary and has had the support of the European Union as well as the British government.

Ponsati’s case has attracted sympathy in Scotland, where nationalists who support an independent Scotland run the devolved government, with almost 235,000 pounds ($332,000) raised on a crowdfunding website to pay for her legal defence.

Around 100 flag-waving supporters greeted her when she arrived outside the Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Thursday chanting “Clara” and “Free Catalonia” and waving Scottish and Catalan flags.

Anwar will also say that the crime of violent rebellion does not exist in Scottish law, which is what lawyers defending Carles Puigdemont, the former head of the Catalan government, have argued in a German extradition case. A German court last week rejected extradition on the charge of rebellion. .

Ponsati was released on bail last month.

Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary, editing by Stephen Addison