The former leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, faced trial in Spain and was briefly detained in Italy. It is not clear whether he will appear when the court considers returning him to Spain.
An Italian court released a former leader of Spain’s Catalonia region from prison on Friday, a day after his arrest on a warrant sought to be returned to Spain for trial over a failed independence bid four years ago.
The court ordered “immediate liberty” for Carles Puigdemont and did not restrict his movements, meaning he could leave the country. It did not make it clear whether he would appear for further court proceedings on a request to send him back to Spain – and, if not, whether Italy would have any way of coercing him.
Mr Puigdemont is a member of the European Parliament, giving him a degree of legal immunity, and detaining him would “compromise his right to travel freely to attend meetings of the European Parliament,” according to the court. The judgment said, the counsel provided by him and verified by him.
What charges does Mr. Puigdemont face?
If he eventually returns to Spain, he faces treason charges for his leading role in a failed attempt to declare Catalonia an independent state in the fall of 2017, following a referendum that was approved by the Spanish government and the courts. was declared illegal.
Spain’s Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena has made Mr Puigdemont a fugitive and issued warrants across Europe for his arrest since he fled to Brussels in October 2017.
In 2019, the Supreme Court sentenced other prominent Catalan separatists to long prison terms for their role in that secession effort. But in June, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez pardoned him and was released.
Catalonia’s separatist leadership has since pushed for a general amnesty that would include people like Mr Puigdemont, who left the country before being put on trial. The Supreme Court has said that they should first set up a trial.
What will Italy consider in deciding to hand him over to Spain?
Italy’s judiciary will consider whether the Spanish charges justify the handing over of Mr Puigdemont, who is a member of the European Parliament.
But there are also questions about whether Spain’s judiciary suspended its long-standing arrest warrant ahead of the former Catalan leader’s visit to Sardinia. Lawyers defending Mr Puigdemont insisted this was the case. However one of those lawyers, Mr Maras, said the Italian prosecutor concluded that the Spanish arrest warrant was still valid.
The Spanish government said on Friday that the matter was to be decided by the courts of Italy and Spain. Mr Sanchez said his government would respect judicial decisions, but added: “It is clear that Puigdemont must face justice.”
Mr Maras said a panel of three Italian judges would decide whether to deport him back to Spain.
Mr Puigdemont was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, which afforded him Immunity From prosecution within the European Union. But that parliament was stripped of his immunity in March, a decision that was upheld by a European court in July.
But the Italian judge said in court papers that his immunity was “still intact.”
Judicial authorities in Sassari, Sardinia, scheduled a hearing on October 4 to assess Mr Puigdemont’s surrender to Spain, according to court documents. But by then he might have left the country.
Why was he detained now?
Spain has repeatedly failed in its efforts to bring Mr Puigdemont home for trial, both from Belgium, where he has lived since late 2017, and Germany, before a regional court ordered his release. He was briefly detained in 2018.
Mr Puigdemont’s visit to Italy provided a new opportunity for Spain’s judiciary to demand his return, now stripped of his parliamentary immunity.
Italian judges will consider charges lighter than those considered in the German hearings. Mr Puigdemont was then charged with rebellion, a charge more serious than treason, and one for which the German court said he did not see sufficient grounds.
If Italy considers Mr Puigdemont to surrender, Martin Palladino, a Spanish professor of criminal law specializing in extradition issues, said legal issues may not be the only factor.
“We cannot rule out that politics will influence it in some way or the other,” he said.
Is Mr. Puigdemont still influential in Catalan politics?
The unexpected arrest immediately strained relations between politicians in the Spanish capital, Madrid, and Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona. It comes a week after Spain’s prime minister made a long-delayed visit to Barcelona to resume talks with Catalonia’s leader Pere Aragones, a bid to end the dispute over independence.
From Brussels, Mr. Puigdemont continues to have a significant influence on Catalan politics as the founder of Together for Catalonia, a staunch separatist party. His seat in the European Parliament has also given him a platform from which to criticize Spain.
In the Catalan elections in February, Escara Republicane, a left-wing pro-independence party, overtook Mr Puigdemont’s group as the largest separatist force.
After the vote, Esquerra’s candidate, Mr Aragones, took over as regional leader, promising to defuse tensions and renew political talks with Madrid. Earlier this month, Mr Aragones disputed with Mr Puigdemont’s party over who should sit at the negotiating table with the central government.
Speaking on Friday outside the Sassari prison, Antonello Peru, a regional councilor in Sardinia, told reporters he met Mr Puigdemont in his cell after the hearing and told him that he intended to continue fighting for Catalonia’s independence. .