An international arrest warrant is pending against Carles Puigdemont. But after the Italian police arrested him at short notice, he is again at large. All tactics, says an expert.
No sooner had the former head of the Catalan regional government, Carles Puigdemont, left the plane than he was arrested. The Italian border police had been waiting for the prominent refugee on Thursday. He was arrested before the Spanish judiciary in the city of Alghero in northwestern Sardinia.
But just one day later, according to media reports, Puigdemont was already at large again. Accordingly, the Italian judge Plinia Azzena let the Catalans run again on Friday – on one condition: he was not allowed to leave the island until the question of a transfer to Spain has been resolved, the judge decided.
The charge: rebellion
Puigdemont was elected MEP in 2019. His problems with the Spanish judiciary, which accuses him of rebellion, go back to 2017. At that time, the Spanish police tried very hard to stop an illegal independence referendum held in Catalonia on October 1st. Since almost only those in favor of the secession voted, there was a large majority in favor of independence.
After Puigdemont proclaimed the region’s independence and immediately suspended it, he was deposed by Madrid and Catalonia was placed under direct administration by the central government. Puigdemont and some of his colleagues fled abroad. The leading separatists who did not flee were sentenced to long prison terms of between nine and 13 years in 2019, but were pardoned last June.
Puigdemont argues for parliamentary immunity
Puigdemont’s Spanish lawyer Gonzalo Boye had already expressed confidence on Friday that his client would soon be released. Puigdemont’s Italian lawyer Agostinangelo Marras had made a similar statement. “He is confident that the case will be resolved as soon as possible and that he will be free again quickly,” the Italian news agency Ansa quoted him as saying.
The temporary fixation of Puigdemont in Italy is not only politically but also from a legal perspective explosive. The Catalan is currently defending himself in the EU court against the fact that the European Parliament lifted his immunity as a member of parliament by majority vote in March. He also applied for the provisional restoration of parliamentary immunity pending the final decision of the Court of Justice. However, this was rejected by the responsible judge – among other things, on the grounds that Spain had assured that the arrest warrant against Puigdemont would not be executed until the court had finally decided on extradition issues.
Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer Simon Bekaert was accordingly outraged that Puigdemont had even been prosecuted by the police when he entered the country. “Either Italy made a mistake or Spain has deceived the European Court of Justice,” he commented on Friday. Bekaert told the German Press Agency in Brussels that a new urgent application to restore parliamentary immunity to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg was already being prepared. This should be submitted if the Italian authorities should arrange a transfer of Puigdemont to Spain.
Expert: The arrest was a deliberate act by Puigdemont
The court recently made it clear that Puigdemont should neither be arrested nor extradited until the legal disputes have been finally resolved, said Bekaert. It was expressly stated that in the event of arrest a new application for an interim order to restore parliamentary immunity could be filed.
For Fulco Lanchester, an Italian professor and constitutional law expert at La Sapienza University in Rome, the matter is so clear that he believes Puigdemont deliberately took the risk of short-term arrest. “In my opinion, this was a deliberate move by Puigdemont to draw attention to his cause. He took a calculated risk in order to look for the public,” he told the German press agency. It is “difficult to believe that someone who is wanted with an international arrest warrant and who does not enjoy immunity has not deliberately brought about such an arrest”.
Back in focus
The place of arrest is also very symbolic: Alghero, which is also called “little Barcelona”, is a Catalan-language island in Sardinia. The Catalans had conquered the area at the end of the 14th century and displaced the local population. Puigdemont had traveled to the island to take part in the Adifolk Festival, an event aimed at spreading Catalan culture. About 1,000 Catalans also traveled there, from whom he could expect that they would speak out loudly for their “President in exile” and the independence of Catalonia.
Puigdemont could use such public support. As the determining force in the camp of the unyielding separatists, he has fallen somewhat behind when the more moderate current regional president of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, began a dialogue with the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to end the longstanding conflict.
Sánchez called on Puigdemont on Friday to face justice. At the same time he affirmed his willingness to enter into dialogue. While some separatists accuse Sánchez of “suppressing” Catalonia and call Aragonès a “traitor”, Puigdemont is back in the center of attention as an upright fighter for the Catalan cause through the night in police custody.