Carles Puigdemont, a former leader of Spain’s Catalonia region, is freed after a brief arrest in Italy. But he must remain in the country until the authorities decide whether to send him back to Spain for trial.
His lawyer said an Italian court released the former leader of Spain’s Catalonia region on Friday, a day after his arrest, but ordered him to remain in the country while authorities consider that he should face trial. To be sent back to Spain or not.
Italian police detained Carles Puigdemont on Thursday night under a European arrest warrant issued by a Spanish judge. Spain is seeking his return to trial on charges related to a failed independence bid four years ago.
The Italian judge did not request further custody of Mr Puigdemont, his lawyer Agostín Angelo Marras told reporters.
“That should release President Puigdemont within a few hours,” he said, adding that his client had no intention of returning to Spain.
What charges does Mr. Puigdemont face?
He faced trial on treason charges in Spain for his leading role in an unsuccessful attempt to declare Catalonia an independent state in the fall of 2017, following a referendum that the Spanish government and courts had 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 the Prime Minister pardoned him and he was released.
Catalonia’s separatist leadership has since pushed for a general amnesty that would include Mr Puigdemont, even as the Supreme Court has said he will face trial first.
What will Italy consider in deciding to hand him over to Spain?
Italy’s judiciary will consider whether the Spanish treason 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 say this was the case.
The Spanish government said on Friday that the matter belongs to the courts of Italy and Spain.
Spain’s Justice Minister Pilar Lope said: “We cannot predict what the result of the detention will be.”
In the coming weeks, Italian judicial officials are expected to schedule a new hearing on whether to return him 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.
Under the Italian judicial system, if the court decides to hand Mr. Puigdemont over to the Spanish authorities and he appeals, his case will go to a higher court in Rome where proceedings usually take six to eight months.
The defendants are not allowed to leave Italy while awaiting the court’s decision.
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 eventually considers surrendering Mr Puigdemont, 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 just a week after Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, made a long-delayed visit to Barcelona to resume talks with Catalonia’s leader Pere Aragones, to end a dispute arising out of a bid for 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.