Sardinia again referees duel between Puigdemont and Llarena
Former president to appear in court which will decide whether to process the European extradition order
BarcelonaThe first time that Carles Puigdemont declared before judge Plinia Azzena in Sassari it was in a conference call from Bancali prison. This Monday the former Catalan president will arrive from Belgium and, if there are no surprises, his legal team expects him to return in freedom and without precautionary measures. Ten days after being arrested at the airport of Alghero and imprisoned overnight, the MEP has another appointment before Sassari's Court of Appeal to deal with the Spanish Supreme Court's (SSC) arrest warrant.
The Supreme Court's investigating judge, Pablo Llarena, claims the euro warrant against the ex president is in force and that the pretrial inquiry sent to Luxembourg on March 9 does not mean the arrest warrant is put on hold, contrary to the Spanish Attorney General's submission to the General Court of the European Union (GCUE). That is to say, the SSC continues to ask Puigdemont be delivered to Spain despite pending cases on his immunity and the scope of the Euro-orders.
Throughout this weekend Puigdemont's team was optimistic about the hearing. When he was arrested were unsure. When he was arrested in Germany he was put on bail and the process lasted for months. This time, though, his freedom of movement was not restricted after the preliminary hearing and the former president's team is confident it will not be restricted after today's hearing. On Saturday, his Italian lawyer Agustin Angelo Marras ruled out there would be precautionary measures. Puigdemont's appearance also comes after his lawyers requested his immunity as MEP be reinstated after it was stripped in late July.
Puigdemont's lawyer Gonzalo Boye explained that he had asked immunity not only for Puigdemont but also for the former ministers Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín, who are in Sardinia to accompany the former president after they arrived in Italy on Sunday without any trouble. Luxembourg had already foreseen this measure if Puigdemont faced trouble moving around after being stripped of immunity. In any case, according to Boye, this request is "independent" from the hearing in Italy. He stresses that both the European Parliament and the Kingdom of Spain will have to present their allegations in the process. This move is no coincidence: Boye wants the state to clarify the contradiction between Llarena and the Attorney General.
Right now European courts are dealing with two cases affecting Puigdemont. On the one hand, he has appealed to the European General Court (EGC) against the European Parliament's (EP) decision to strip him of his immunity. On the other hand, there are the pretrial questions Llarena sent to the EU's Court of Justice (CJEU). The latter regard the scope of the European arrest warrants after Belgium denied extradition of former minister Lluís Puig, generating division between the SSC and the Attorney General. Llarena affirms that the request does not suspend the search and arrest warrant and, on the other hand, the State's lawyer before the EGC, Sonsoles Centeno, believes it does. The SSC believes Centeno's position is wrong and makes her responsible for the fact that the EGC assumed this thesis on July 30.
In the first resolution on Puigdemont's case, the Italian judge recorded that the former president is protected as an MEP to go to meetings related to the European Parliament – parliamentarians cannot be arrested if they are not committing a flagrant crime – and let him free. It remains to be seen whether she now maintains the same position and, after a few hours or days, refuses to process the European arrest warrant in Italy. "This is the only possible scenario: the case being thrown out," say sources from Puigdemont's legal team. Thus lawyers rule out that what Llarena is seeking: that the extradition process is left open in Italy at least until Luxembourg rules on the pretrial question and that, then, it is Sardinia who picks up Puigdemont's case.
As already happened on the weekend of the arrest, the former president will not be alone in Italy. As well as his closest team – his head of cabinet, Josep Lluís Alay – and lawyers – Boye and Marras –, the secretary general of his party JxCat, Jordi Sànchez, and other leaders such as Josep Rius and Míriam Nogueras have also flow in from Catalonia. The Catalan Government is also sending representatives, including the minister of Justice, Lourdes Ciuró, and the minister of the Presidency, Laura Vilagrà, the former minister Meritxell Serret and MP Chakir el Homrani. After appearing in court, Puigdemont will meet them and offer a press conference in Alghero in which he believes that he will be able to proclaim himself the winner of his umpteenth duel with Llarena.