Saturday 10/16/21

Ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont detained in Sardinia

He was being held by police at Alghero airport and was set to be transferred to the Sassari court of appeal on Friday
FILED - Catalan MEP Carles Puigdemont holds a press conference regarding his immunity at the European Parliament in Brussels. Photo: Jan Van De Vel/European Parliament/dpa - ATTENTION: editorial use only and only if the credit mentioned above is referenced in full
Catalan MEP Carles Puigdemont holds a press conference regarding his immunity in Brussels. Photo: Jan Van De Vel/European Parliament/dpa.

Former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont has been detained on the Italian island of Sardinia.

His lawyer Gonzalo Boye confirmed the arrest on Twitter late Thursday, and his Belgian lawyer also confirmed in Brussels that Puigdemont had been detained by Italian police in Sardinia.

The arrest was under the European warrant issued by Spain's Supreme Court against the Catalan separatist leader, who has been living in Belgium, La Vanguardia newspaper reported, citing judicial sources in Madrid.

Spain accuses Puigdemont of crimes including sedition linked to the October 1, 2017 Catalan referendum and a subsequent decision to separate from Spain.

Afterwards, Catalonia was placed under administration by Spain's central government. The referendum was ruled illegal and charges were filed against the organizers.

Puigdemont evaded the grasp of the Spanish judiciary by hiding in an SUV and fleeing to France to reach Belgium.

Dialogue between Spain's central government in Madrid and the separatist regional government in Barcelona on the years-long crisis has only recently resumed. The arrest is likely to make the talks more difficult.

Puigdemont is a dominant force in the separatist camp, which does not see any chance of a negotiated solution and wants to push ahead with regional independence - even if it faces resistance from the rest of Spain.

His JuntsxCat party is the junior partner in the Barcelona coalition headed by the left-wing, more moderate separatist Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party.

The ERC's Pere Aragones, the current Catalan president, last week resumed talks with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Both sides received criticism for the move - Aragones by the separatists and Sanchez by the national conservative opposition.

Held by police

Puigdemont had travelled to Sardinia for a meeting with independent local politicians on Friday, according to the La Vanguardia report.

He was being held by police at Alghero airport and was set to be transferred to the Sassari court of appeal on Friday, El Pais reported, citing sources in Puigdemont's circle.

As a Member of the European Parliament, Puigdemont is technically entitled to immunity. However, the EU Parliament lifted his immunity and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg rejected a request for interim legal protection. A decision on the case is expected soon.

Puigdemont's Belgian lawyer Simon Bekaert said Friday night the team was preparing an urgent application to the ECJ to restore parliamentary immunity that would be submitted if Italian authorities do not release Puigdemont quickly or initiate an extradition to Spain.

The court had made it clear in its latest decision that Puigdemont should not be detained or extradited until the legal dispute over immunity is finally resolved, Bekaert said.

He said it therefore explicit that lawyers could file a request for a temporary injunction to restore parliamentary immunity again if Puigdemont was arrested.

Spain's judiciary has been pursuing Puigdemont since he fled after the 2017 referendum. He was arrested in Germany in 2018 but he was not extradited as the Schleswig Higher Regional Court agreed to only extradite him on charges of misappropriating public funds.

Spain would not have been able to charge him with sedition in this case and decided to withdraw its European arrest warrant.