Ex-Catalan leader fights Spanish warrant in Italy court

AFP , Monday 4 Oct 2021

Exiled former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was back in an Italian court Monday to fight an extradition warrant issued by Spain over his role in Catalonia's failed independence bid.

Catalonia s exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont
Catalonia s exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont waves as he arrives on October 4, 2021 to attend his extradition hearing at the Sassari courthouse in Sardinia, Italy. AFP

The 58-year-old, who fled Spain for Belgium in 2017, was arrested on the island of Sardinia on September 23, where he spent the night in a cell before being released pending the next hearing.

Puigdemont was greeted by supporters shouting "Freedom! Freedom!" as he arrived at the court in Sassari for Monday's hearing, where the judges are due to rule on the validity of his arrest.

"During the hearing, it will have to be determined if the European arrest warrant can be applied," his Italian lawyer Agostinangelo Marras told AFP.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the court brandishing Catalan independence and Sardinian flags.

"We are here for the freedom of Puigdemont and for the independence of Catalonia, and also for Sardinia. Without violence, and in peace, we want independence," said one, 70-year-old Giancarlo Ballon.

Puigdemont led efforts by Catalonia's separatist regional government to stage an independence referendum in October 2017 ruled illegal by Madrid. The vote was marred by police violence.

Several weeks later, the Catalan administration issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering a political and constitutional crisis with Madrid and prompting Puigdemont and several others to flee abroad.

Those who stayed behind were arrested and put on trial, with nine of them jailed for between nine and 13 years.

Although they were pardoned earlier this year, Madrid still wants Puigdemont and the others to face justice over the secession bid.

 

Immunity

This is the third time he has been arrested since fleeing Spain. The first was when he arrived in Brussels, and the second in Germany in March 2018, when it took the courts nearly four months to return him to full freedom.

Although he enjoyed immunity for a time after being elected an MEP in 2019, that was lifted by the European Parliament in March in a decision upheld in July by the EU's General Court.

The decision also affects former Catalan regional ministers Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati, both of whom are also wanted by Spain -- and who were in Sassari Monday in a show of support for Puigdemont.

However, the trio are appealing the European Parliament's decision and a final ruling by the EU court has yet to be made.

On Friday, Puigdemont's legal team said he was seeking an emergency injunction with the EU General Court to retain his immunity.

His arrest in Sardinia came barely a week after the left-wing government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the regional Catalan authorities resumed negotiations to find a solution to Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

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