Carles Puigdemont, the exiled Catalan president who led the 2017 referendum and independence bid, was being held in police custody on the Italian island of Sardinia on Friday evening. Italian police detained Puigdemont under an arrest warrant put out by Spain’s Supreme Court, who wants to try Puigdemont for sedition as part of the failed efforts to establish an independent Catalan republic.

At the airport, he was met by Italian law-enforcement officials who brought him into custody. Spanish judicial sources say the EU arrest warrant against Puigdemont is still active, however, Puigdemont’s defence argues that when Spain’s Supreme Court issued a request on warrants to EU courts in March, the arrest warrant was suspended. In the coming hours he will be brought to the Court of Appeal of Sassari, which will decide whether to release him or extradite him to Spain. The ex-president is accompanied by his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, and a team of Italian lawyers.

Puigdemont traveled to Sardinia from Brussels on Friday afternoon to visit the Adifolk folklore and cultural event taking place in the Catalan-speaking city of Alghero. The exiled Catalan president was due to meet with the head of the autonomous region of Sardinia.

Arrest warrant active?

In March, Spain’s Supreme Court submitted a request to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on the case of Lluís Puig, another former government member in exile. Spain saw Belgium reject their hopes of extraditing Lluís Puig, the former culture minister also in exile, in January. Belgian judges believed the Supreme Court did not have the authority to try him since he no longer had a post in government, and raised concerns that Puig’s presumption of innocence was at risk in Spain.

With this move, the Supreme Court hoped to receive clarification on the criteria on European arrest warrants in order to issue a new one for the exiled leaders including Puigdemont with a higher chance to have them extradited, after three previous failed attempts since 2017.

However, it is not clear as of yet whether the court reactivated the arrest warrants against him and other exiled leaders despite the fact that magistrates are at the moment waiting for the response of the EU court to their March 2021 request for clarification on the arrest warrants. While Supreme Court sources told the Catalan News Agency that the warrants were never withdrawn, Puigdemont’s lawyers say they were.

Parliamentary immunity lifted

On July 30, the EU court, pending a final decision, confirmed the suspension of Puigdemont’s immunity as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) voted in the chamber in early March – its latest decision on the matter but not its final one. Yet, magistrates in Luxembourg argued that undoing the suspension of his immunity was not necessary as they had not “seen enough probability” that he could be detained anywhere in Europe. Puigdemont and the other pro-independence MEPs are not exposed to “irreversible and serious harm,” the court said on July 30.

In the same judge’s decree, magistrates considered that the arrest warrant against Puigdemont was suspended when Spain raised its question to Luxembourg in March, and suggested that the politician would be able to request his immunity to be provisionally returned again if he were detained at any time. “There is nothing that suggests that Belgian judicial authorities or those of any other EU member state can execute the European arrest warrants,” said the same document.

Four years in exile 

Puigdemont has been in exile since October 2017, just days after he led an independence referendum not authorized by Spain and the independence of Catalonia was momentarily declared in parliament. He has been MEP since January 2020 after having been elected in the May 2019 European election – the parliament only accepted him as MEP after the EU court ruled that, despite his open case in Spain, he had the right to his seat.

In early March 2021, his parliamentary immunity as MEP was lifted – something that was provisionally revoked by the EU court after an appeal by Puigdemont, but a new ruling on July 30 reinstated the original decision to lift Puigdemont’s parliamentary immunity, pending a final decision.

 

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