Italian judge suspends Puigdemont’s extradition process pending EU court decisions

Former president's privileges as MEP were removed in March, but his defense appealed against it before Luxembourg magistrates

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is greeted by ex-ministers Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín as he exits the court in Italy (by  Natàlia Segura)
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is greeted by ex-ministers Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín as he exits the court in Italy (by Natàlia Segura) / ACN

ACN | Sassari

October 4, 2021 03:19 PM

The court in Sassari, Sardinia, has suspended Carles Puigdemont's extradition procedure pending EU court decisions on his immunity and on the Luxembourg court's response to the questions raised by Spain's Supreme Court over the European arrest warrant system in March. The former Catalan president will now be free to travel throughout the EU but for Spain, according to his Italian lawyer, Agostinangelo Marras.

Upon leaving the court, Puigdemont told reporters that he was "very happy." Prior to the session, the 2017 referendum leader's defense team was "confident" that the Italian judiciary would close the case.

In the hearing held before the Court of Appeals in Sassari on the Italian island of Sardinia on Monday, attorneys rejected going ahead with the case due to the pending rulings in Luxembourg.

This episode opened when the former Catalan president, now in exile, was arrested on September 23 when he first traveled to the island.

Marras explained after the hearing on Monday that the case is "not closed, it is suspended pending the preliminary rulings" of the European court. It is not known when the procedure will be able to resume in the Sassari court, as the matter now rests with the European General Court. 

Pending EU court decision on immunity

After Puigdemont had his immunity as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) lifted in March 2021, his legal team appealed against the decision made by a majority of the parliament members before the EU court. In June, he recovered his parliamentary privileges, before then losing them again in July in a provisional decision that made Puigdemont's defence team believe that arrest warrants against the former Catalan president were suspended.

Yet, when judges made that decision, they suggested that privileges could be provisionally granted again if Puigdemont faced the risk of arrest. Thus, following his detention, the politician's lawyers requested the EU Court to recover his immunity on October 1, pending a final decision on the issue. 

Now, the Italian prosecutor believes Puigdemont's extradition process cannot go ahead until the magistrates in Luxembourg decide whether the removal of his immunity was done lawfully. The court in Sassari accepted this stance, so the case is now on standby waiting for the EU court ruling.

Also waiting on EU court for Spanish judge's questions

The case is also awaiting word from the EU court regarding the questions posed to it from Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena. 

In March, after Puigdemont's immunity as an MEP was first lifted, Spain's Supreme Court submitted a request to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on the case of Lluís Puig, another exiled independence leader. 

Belgium refused to hand him over on the grounds that the Supreme Court did not have the authority to try him since he no longer had a post in government. They also raised concerns that Puig's presumption of innocence might be at risk in Spain, following a report by the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention about the politicians who are now serving a prison sentence rather than being in exile. 

Judge Pablo Llarena asked the European Court of Justice whether these arguments could be used against a European arrest warrant. 

On Monday, the same magistrate unsuccessfully tried to persuade Italian authorities to arrest Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, two other pro-independence exiled MEPs who accompanied Puigdemont to Sassari. 

Llarena has been trying to get any of the officials who moved abroad after the 2017 independence push extradited, something that has failed as of yet.