Spain Stumbles in Bid to Extradite Embattled Rapper

Spanish rapper Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran, also known as Valtonyc, left, gives the thumbs up as he leaves the courthouse in Ghent, Belgium, on Sept. 17, 2018. A Belgian court has ruled that Spanish rapper Valtonyc should not be sent back to Spain, where he was sentenced to prison accused of writing lyrics that praise terror groups and insult the royal family. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

(CN) — An EU magistrate dealt Spain a blow Tuesday in its efforts to imprison the rapper Valtonyc, who fled the country after his lyrics were ruled to glorify terrorism.

Originally based in Palma de Mallorca, the 25-year-old rapper born Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran has been living in Belgium since 2017. That’s when the National High Court of Spain ordered a 3.5-year sentence for rap songs that Valtonyc had published online in 2012 and 2013.

Though Spain executed a European arrest warrant to execute that sentence, a Belgian court refused to honor the request and asked the European Court of Justice to determine the propriety of Spain’s warrant.

Before the Luxembourg-based judges take on the case, however, Advocate General Michal Bobek chimed in Tuesday with his recommendation.

Bobek said the warrant here should be ruled improper because Spanish law was less harsh in 2012 and 2013 for the crimes of which Valtonyc was convicted.

Though the law at the time made the crime of glorification of terrorism and humiliation of the victims of terrorism punishable by a prison sentence of one to two years, Spain’s high court relied on a 2015 amendment to order the longer sentence.

“It is one thing for an executing Member State to verify double criminality on the basis of an assessment of the moral standards conveyed by its criminal legislation at the time of execution of an EAW,” Bobek wrote, using an abbreviation for the warrant. “It is an entirely different matter for an issuing Member State to issue an EAW under a specific simplified regime by reference to legislation that is not applicable to the offenses at issue and that contains a different assessment of the seriousness of the offense in the form of a higher penalty than the one imposed by the judgment underlying the EAW.”

The rapper’s lawyer Simon Bekaert praised the ruling.

“Spain should not bend the rules in its pursuit of extradition,” Bekaert tweeted. “Another step closer to non-extradition.”

Valtonyc tweeted about the case as well, saying Spain cannot rely on its “cheats” abroad.

“It is not a victory, but today we are closer to finding justice. #ShameSpain,” he wrote, according to a translation of the rapper’s tweet in the Catalan language.

Valtonyc told BBC last year that he was inspired to leave Spain after Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium on the heels of arrest warrant over the region’s declaration of independence.

The Valtonyc opinion was one of two issued Tuesday by EU magistrates on the topic of European arrest warrants. In another, Advocate General Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona said warrant-issuing authorities must be fully independent from executive influence — a matter that is in dispute in underlying cases involving Public Prosecutor’s Offices in France, Sweden and Belgium.

“A public prosecutor’s office cannot be regarded as an ‘issuing judicial authority’ if, when adjudicating on a European arrest warrant, its members must comply with general instructions on criminal justice policy, issued by the Minister for Justice, which are binding in relation to such warrants and with instructions issued to them by their hierarchical superiors,” Campos Sánchez-Bordona wrote.

The magistrate offered alternate language: “A person requested under a European arrest warrant issued by a public prosecutor’s office in a Member State which participates in the administration of justice and has a guaranteed independent status must be able to challenge that warrant before a judge or court in that state, without having to wait until he is surrendered, as soon as the warrant has been issued (unless this would jeopardize the criminal proceedings) or notified to him.’”

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