Former Catalan president Puigdemont held in police custody in Sardinia

Leader to appear before judge on Friday at 2 pm as confusion on whether arrest warrant on him is at the moment active continues

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont appearing before the media in Brussels on June 3, 2021
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont appearing before the media in Brussels on June 3, 2021 / Nazaret Romero

Cillian Shields & Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

September 24, 2021 01:08 PM

Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan president who led the 2017 referendum and independence bid, was arrested on the Italian island of Sardinia on Thursday evening. 

Italian police detained the ex-head of the Catalan government under an arrest warrant put out by Spain’s Supreme Court, who want to try Puigdemont for sedition as part of the failed efforts to establish an independent Catalan republic. 

On Friday afternoon he is likely to be provisionally released but will have to remain on the island of Sardinia while judges deliberate on his case and decide how to proceed.

After the peak of the independence conflict in 2017, Puigdemont went into exile and has been living in Belgium for years, while nine of his colleagues from the Catalan government at the time spent over three years in prison for their roles, until they were pardoned in June by the Spanish government

Puigdemont traveled to Sardinia from Brussels on Thursday afternoon to visit the Adifolk folklore and cultural event taking place in the Catalan-speaking city of Alghero. The former Catalan president was due to meet with the head of the autonomous region of Sardinia. 

At the airport, he was met by Italian law-enforcement officials who brought him into custody. He spent the night of Thursday into Friday in Casa Circondariale prison, in Sassari. 

Spanish judicial sources say the EU arrest warrant against Puigdemont is still active, however, Puigdemont's defence argues that when Spain's Supreme Court issued a request on warrants to EU courts in March, the arrest warrant was suspended.

He is set to be brought to the Court of Appeal of Sassari on Friday at 2 pm, which will decide whether to release him or extradite him to Spain.

The ex-president is accompanied by his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, in Brussels, and a team of Italian lawyers in Sardinia. 

Not clear whether arrest warrants are now active

In March, Spain's Supreme Court submitted a request to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on the case of Lluís Puig, another former government member in exile.

Spain saw Belgium reject their hopes of extraditing Lluís Puig, the former culture minister also in exile, in January. 

Belgian judges believed the Supreme Court did not have the authority to try him since he no longer had a post in government, and raised concerns that Puig's presumption of innocence was at risk in Spain.

With this move, the Supreme Court hoped to receive clarification on the criteria on European arrest warrants in order to issue a new one for the exiled leaders including Puigdemont with a higher chance to have them extradited, after three previous failed attempts since 2017.

However, it is not clear as of yet whether the court reactivated the arrest warrants against him and other exiled leaders despite the fact that magistrates are at the moment waiting for the response of the EU court to their March 2021 request for clarification on the arrest warrants. While Supreme Court sources told the Catalan News Agency say the warrants were never withdrawn, Puigdemont's lawyers say they were. 

Parliamentary immunity lifted

On July 30, the EU court, pending a final decision, confirmed the suspension of Puigdemont's immunity as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) voted in the chamber in early March – its latest decision on the matter but not its final one. 

Yet, magistrates in Luxembourg argued that undoing the suspension of his immunity was not necessary as they had not "seen enough probability" that he could be detained anywhere in Europe. 

Puigdemont and the other pro-independence MEPs are not exposed to "irreversible and serious harm," the court said on July 30. 

In the same judge's decree, magistrates considered that the arrest warrant against Puigdemont was suspended when Spain raised its question to Luxembourg in March, and suggested that the politician would be able to request his immunity to be provisionally returned again if he were detained at any time. 

"There is nothing that suggests that Belgian judicial authorities or those of any other EU member state can execute the European arrest warrants," said the same document.

Puigdemont, four years in exile and current MEP

Puigdemont has been in exile since October 2017, just days after he led an independence referendum not authorized by Spain and the independence of Catalonia was momentarily declared in parliament.

He has been MEP since January 2020 after having been elected in the May 2019 European election – the parliament only accepted him as MEP after the EU court ruled that, despite his open case in Spain, he had the right to his seat.

In early March 2021, his parliamentary immunity as MEP was lifted – something that was provisionally revoked by the EU court after an appeal by Puigdemont, but a new ruling on July 30 reinstated the original decision to lift Puigdemont's parliamentary immunity, pending a final decision.