Ex-Catalan leader back in Brussels after Italy arrest
Exiled former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was back in Belgium on Monday after his arrest in Italy but said he had no idea of what his fate would be when he goes back for an extradition hearing.
“I don’t know” what will happen, he told journalists as he entered the European Parliament, where he is a lawmaker.
“It depends on the judges.”
He confirmed he would travel back to Sardinia for his hearing there next Monday that will weigh an extradition request from Spain.
Puigdemont was arrested in Sardinia on Thursday and spent the night in prison before a brief court hearing a day later that authorised his provisional release.
The 58-year-old is wanted by Madrid on charges of sedition for leading a failed Catalan bid to declare independence from Spain in October 2017, fleeing to Belgium to avoid prosecution.
His lawyer in Sardinia has insisted there was no basis for his arrest, nor for his extradition.
Puigdemont said his required presence in Italy “isn’t easy… because it coincides with the plenary week” of the European Parliament.
“But I will go…. We are ready to face this hearing.”
Despite a ban by Madrid, Catalonia’s separatist regional government under Puigdemont tried to stage an independence referendum in 2017, which was marred by police violence.
Several weeks later, the administration issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering a political crisis with Spain, and prompting Puigdemont and several others to flee abroad.
– Immunity lifted –
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.
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.
However the trio are appealing the European Parliament’s decision and a final ruling by the EU court has yet to be made.