Puigdemont's lawyers expect one-year delay in extradition cases due to question put to EU court
Belgian and Scottish judges will not proceed until Luxembourg sets criteria on European arrest warrants, according to the defense
Spain's efforts to extradite the 2017 Catalan referendum organizers currently in Belgium and Scotland might have to wait for one more year before being considered.
Shortly after the EU parliament revoked the immunity of former president Carles Puigdemont, and former ministers Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, on Tuesday 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 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. Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí's lawyers believe that court will take a year to answer, and that in the meantime the extradition requests will continue to stay frozen.
Despite his request, Llarena will shortly reactivate all three European arrest warrants once he is officially notified that they no longer enjoy immunity – but according to Puigdemont's lawyer in Belgium, Paul Bekaert, who spoke to the Catalan News Agency; "the Belgian courts will wait until they have an answer from Luxembourg, and as long as there is no answer, nothing is going to happen."
Bekaert also said that "it is possible" for the EU court to contradict Belgium's arguments for rejecting Lluís Puig's extradition – but in this event, Llarena would have to issue a fourth European arrest warrant to reopen the case since the Belgian courts' decision is now final.
As for Clara Ponsatí, whose extradition case is being reviewed in Scotland, her lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said that their extradition cases might additionally be frozen not just because of the question put to the EU court, but also since the same institution has not yet had its say on the immunity waiving.
On Tuesday, the exiled MEPs confirmed they would take the immunity procedures to the EU court – they are expected to argue that there has been a "breach of confidentiality" before the committee vote on the issue, a "lack of impartiality" regarding their cases' rapporteur, the ultra-conservative MEP Angel Dzhambazki being in charge of all three cases, as well as the fact that the parliamentary report on Ponsatí mentioned a crime she is not being prosecuted for in Spain.
Anwar does not take a judicial victory for granted. "When it comes to European jurisprudence and human rights, I would say that Clara Ponsatí, Toni Comín and Carles Puigdemont are on the right side of history, and one would hope that the courts will also be on the right side of history."