Former Catalan leader Puigdemont freed after Italian court appearance

Independence leader arrested on arriving in Sardinia to attend cultural event

Hundreds have gathered in front of the Italian consulate in Barcelona to protest against the arrest of Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, detained on a European arrest warrant issued by Spain, in Sardinia. Video: Reuters

 

The former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, was freed after nearly a day in custody in Sardinia on Friday, in the latest episode in the Spanish judiciary’s attempt to extradite him for leading a failed independence bid four years ago.

Mr Puigdemont, who has been based in Belgium since fleeing Spain in 2017, was arrested on Thursday at Alghero airport as he arrived on the island to attend a cultural event.

On Friday evening he was freed after appearing in court but must return for another hearing on October 4th.

The Spanish supreme court wants the former regional leader to face trial for sedition and misuse of public funds for his role in a referendum staged by the region and a subsequent declaration of independence that did not come into effect. Nine of his former colleagues were jailed for sedition.

Although the Spanish government pardoned all nine in June, the supreme court continues to pursue Mr Puigdemont, who has campaigned for Catalan independence throughout his time in self-exile.

After his release, Mr Puigdemont tweeted that “Spain never misses a chance to make a fool of itself.”

In response to the news of the arrest, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said he respected “all legal procedures which are opened in Spain, in Europe, in this case Italy.”

Earlier this month, his leftist coalition administration resumed negotiations with the Catalan government, with the aim of finding a solution to the longstanding territorial crisis. With that in mind, on Friday Mr Sánchez also underlined the need for political engagement.

“Today, more than ever, it’s important to commit to dialogue,” he said. “Dialogue is more necessary than ever, if that’s possible.”

Mr Sánchez’s minority government needs the support of Catalan nationalists in parliament.

War of words

However, the independence movement responded angrily to the arrest, with protests in Barcelona. Catalan president Pere Aragonès called on the Spanish supreme court to stop its efforts to extradite Mr Puigdemont, warning that “the repression does not end”.

“It’s clear that these developments do not help in any way the process of negotiating the political conflict,” he added.

Pablo Casado, leader of the opposition Popular Party (PP), called on the prime minister to “do everything possible” to ensure the extradition of the former Catalan president.

The arrest immediately triggered a war of words over its legality.

Earlier this year, the European Parliament voted to strip Mr Puigdemont, who is an MEP, of his parliamentary immunity, a decision that was ratified by the European Court of Justice in July. However, his legal team say that the same ruling also suspended an existing international arrest warrant issued against him in 2019.

Irish MEP Clare Daly tweeted that the arrest amounted to “a flagrant abuse of EU law”.

Mr Puigdemont’s legal team said he was requesting the reinstatement of his immunity.

However, Pablo Llarena, the Spanish supreme court judge who has led the efforts to extradite Mr Puigdemont, sent a missive to the court in Sardinia that is hearing his case, stating that “the judicial procedure from which the European arrest warrant stems is active”.

After Friday’s hearing the Italian court found that the arrest had been lawful.