The Catalan separatist leader has lived abroad for years – fled from prosecution in Spain. Now he was literally intercepted in Italy. Whether Carles Puigdemont will be extradited to Madrid is open.
Former Catalan Prime Minister Carles Puigdemont has been arrested on the Italian Mediterranean island of Sardinia. His lawyer Gonzalo Boye wrote that on Thursday evening on Twitter. Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer Simon Bekaert also confirmed that Puigdemont had been arrested.
The reason was a European arrest warrant issued by Spain’s Supreme Court in 2019 against the separatists living in Belgium, reported the newspaper “La Vanguardia”, citing information from the court in Madrid. The arrest is likely to make the dialogue that has just begun between the Spanish central government in Madrid and the separatist regional government in Barcelona about resolving the longstanding crisis even more difficult.
Spain accuses Puigdemont and other separatists of rebellion among other things because of the illegal independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1, 2017 and the attempted secession of the region. Puigdemont is the determining force in the camp of the separatists, who do not give a negotiated solution to the conflict a chance and want to enforce the independence of the region if necessary against the resistance of the rest of Spain.
Dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona is difficult
His party JuntsxCat is a junior partner in the coalition government in Barcelona of the left, more moderate separatist party ERC, which, in Pere Aragonès, is the Catalan regional head of government. Last week, Aragonès resumed dialogue with Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez about the future of Catalonia. Both were sharply criticized for this, Aragonès from the relentless separatists, Sánchez from the national-conservative opposition.
Puigdemont had traveled to Sardinia to take part in a meeting of independent Sardinian local politicians. The newspaper “El País” reported that he was being held by the police at the airport in the city of Alghero and was to be handed over to the court of appeal in the city of Sassari on Friday, citing those around Puigdemont. The court must examine whether Puigdemont will be released or extradited to Spain. A confirmation of the arrest by Italian authorities was initially not available.
As a member of the EU Parliament, Puigdemont actually enjoys immunity. The EU Parliament had, however, lifted the immunity of Puigdemont and two other separatist MEPs from Catalonia. The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg (ECJ) had rejected the provisional legal protection requested by Puigdemont in the form of a suspension of the waiver of immunity. There will be a decision on the main issue shortly.
Urgent motion to restore Puigdemont’s immunity
According to Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer Bekaert, an attempt is now being made to take legal action against the arrest in Italy. At the same time, an urgent application to restore parliamentary immunity to the ECJ is already being prepared, said the dpa lawyer on Friday night. This should be submitted if the Italian authorities did not quickly release Puigdemont or even initiate extradition to Spain.
In its latest ruling, the Court of Justice made it clear that Puigdemont should neither be arrested nor extradited until the dispute over parliamentary immunity has 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.
After the banned independence referendum in Catalonia in October 2017, Puigdemont, like some of his fellow campaigners, fled abroad. Since then, the Spanish judiciary has been persecuting him. In 2018 he had already been arrested in Germany. However, there was no extradition because the Higher Regional Court in Schleswig only approved an extradition on charges of misappropriating public funds. Spain would then not have been able to charge him with rebellion and therefore withdrew his European arrest warrant.