Puigdemont 'will return in a relatively short time,' says lawyer as Spain aims for extradition
Former president questions whether Spanish and Catalan government parties discussed handing him in during penal code reform talks
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont "will return in a relatively short time," according to his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye.
In an interview with public broadcaster Catalunya Ràdio, he said that a date for his return will be set once the European Court of Justice rules on the politician's appeal of the EU parliament's decision to lift his political immunity in 2021.
Boye said they intend to see Puigdemont back in Catalonia in 2023 and is confident he will maintain the immunity he now has after the EU court reviews his case and that he will not be extradited.
Puigdemont left for Belgium just a few days after the 2017 referendum and declaration of independence – several attempts by the Spanish judiciary to get him handed in failed over the past five years in Belgian, German, and Italian courts.
Spain's Supreme Court requested that his immunity as MEP be lifted, something that happened in March 2021 but was appealed by Puigdemont's defense team.
The politician is also waiting for the EU court to determine whether Belgium's decision to reject extraditing former culture minister Lluís Puig was lawful – this ruling, which will be announced on January 31, could impact the fate of all exiles.
Penal code reform impacts exiles
The recent penal code reform has changed the charges the exiled leaders face, with the judge handling the case of the 2017 independence leaders dropping the charge of sedition against those still in exile but keeping misuse of public funds – which carries up to 12 years behind bars – as well as disobedience – a non-imprisonable offense.
Yet, the public prosecutor wants harder indictments and has requested aggravated public disorder crime charges – which replaces the now revoked sedition crime – in the accusations. Spain's solicitor general has also requested aggravated public disorder charges for Puigdemont and the other exiles.
After hearing all parties in the trial, including the defense lawyers, Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena will make a decision and may issue fresh European arrest warrants, either before or after the European Court of Justice issues its two pending decisions.
Spanish government hopes to extradite Puigdemont "in a short period of time"
On Wednesday morning, Spain's finance minister María Jesús Montero said that she hopes the changes in the penal code prompt Puigdemont's extradition – one of the arguments Belgium and Germany made to not hand the Catalan independence leaders in was that there was no equivalent to the crime of sedition in their national legal framework.
"We hope these [changes] are useful so that Mr. Puigdemont is extradited and can face justice, which is what the Spanish government has wanted from the very first day, in a short period of time," said Montero.
Reacting to the comments, Puigdemont asked on social media whether the Spanish and Catalan government parties, the Socialists and Esquerra, discussed handing him in during the penal code reform talks that ended in a deal.
"I am still waiting for an answer to the question of whether in the long and not very transparent meetings to seal a deal on the penal code reform, the Spanish government brought up these intentions to the Catalan part," he said.