Italian border police arrested Carles Puigdemont, former president of the Generalitat de Catalunya, in Sardinia late on Thursday. Puigdemont was wanted by Spain for his role in the 2017 independence referendum. An international arrest warrant had been issued against Puigdemont.
Carles Puigdemont was arrested when he landed in the town of Alghero, on the Italian island of Sardinia. He will be handed over to the Italian judiciary on Friday. The Court of Appeal of Sassari will decide whether he will be released or extradited to Spain.
Dispute over validity of European arrest warrant
The ‘ex-president’ is receiving legal assistance from his lawyer Gonzalo Boye and from a team of Italian lawyers, Junts sources have said. In the first instance, they are questioining the validity of the European arrest warrant in their defence.
However, Supreme Court sources have stated the warrant issued earlier by the Supreme Court for the crime of ‘sedition’ remained valid. The warrant was issued on 14 October 2019, following the conviction of the leaders of the Catalan rebellion trial.
Puigdemont fled justice on 31 October 2017 precisely to avoid arrest for this crime. Since then, he has been living the Belgian town of Waterloo. However, he has travelled to different parts of Europe.
No more immunity
Meanwhile, the Spanish government pointed out the arrest is the result of ongoing legal proceedings. Puigdemont, like any other European citizen, must submit to the actions of justice. In a communiqué, it stressed the arrest was the result of the legal procedure ‘which applies to any citizen of the European Union who has to answer to the courts for his actions’. The government also expressed its ‘respect for the decisions of the Italian authorities and courts’.
The arrest came only two months after parliamentary immunity, that protected Puigdemont and his colleagues Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí in the European Parliament, was lifted. This decision by the EU judicial body followed the European Parliament’s withdrawal of immunity in March. The Spanish Supreme Court had requested permission to try the politicians for their involvement in the referendum.
Puigdemont was previously arrested in Germany in March 2018 by the country’s police . After a long judicial and legal process, the former Catalan leader was not extradited to Spain.
European Court of Justice
Now Puigdemont is in Italy and loses the protection of his MEP status, he could be brought before the Spanish courts for his role in the referendum. He could also reinstate summary proceedings at the Court of Justice of the European Union to try to regain his immunity as an MEP and stop his extradition to Spain. He had been trying to do so since May, when the European Parliament withdrew its protection. The appeal is still being examined by the EU judiciary.
The European Court of Justice previously warned Puigdemont could face a new trial if the alleged harm was sufficiently plausible.
Reactions Spanish politicians
Pablo Casado, president of the conservative Partido Popular, took the opportunity to attack Sánchez: @Puigdemont should be tried in Spain for his coup against constitutional legality, and Sánchez should respect the verdict of Justice without pardon in exchange for staying in power”.
President of Ciudadanos, Inés Arrimadas, called the arrest “good news for all democrats. I hope Puigdemont will be extradited to Spain and will answer for his actions. No one should be unpunished or above the law,” she added.
On the other hand, Puigdemont also received expressions of support from members of parties in favour of Catalonia’s independence. They expressed their solidarity and asked for his release, such as Oriol Junqueras, president of the Catalan political party ERC. He tweeted: “All my support, president. There is only one formula to stop the incessant repression of the state: amnesty, self-determination and independence“.