The Spanish Justice Ministry has hired the services of a Belgian law firm to defend Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena against a civil lawsuit filed by ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont and four former regional deputies. Under the terms of the contract, the government is expected to pay up to €450,413.22, plus €94,568.78 in taxes – a total of €544,982.
Legal sources say that this amount would cover the cost of fighting the lawsuit for a few months but if the complaint is thrown out by the Belgian court, the final fee will be significantly lower.
Puigdemont is demanding a symbolic payment of one euro from the judge should he win the case
Llarena has been heading up the main judicial probe into the actions of Puigdemont and other pro-independence politicians last year, when the regional government held an illegal referendum on Catalonia’s secession from Spain, before unilaterally declaring independence in parliament.
Puigdemont and several of his colleagues were ousted from their roles and fled Spain, and are still wanted for extradition. Other pro-independence leaders and politicians, meanwhile, were arrested and are currently in pre-trial custody without bail, a decision taken by the Spanish courts on the basis that they may reoffend or indeed flee the country as their colleagues had.
The lawsuit that Puigdemont and his lawyers have filed against the magistrate accuses Llarena of being impartial and states that Spain is “next to Kazakhstan among delinquent states that refuse to comply with the principles that govern universal fundamental rights.”
Puigdemont’s lawyers argue that public comments made by Llarena violated the ousted politicians’ right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. The lawsuit points to an instance on February 22 when the magistrate said the pro-independence leaders currently in pre-trial detention were not “political prisoners” and claim that Llarena showed prejudice by expressing opinions outside of the court. “We ask the Belgian court to confirm the civil penalty against Judge Llarena for violating the presumption of innocence, and confirm the harm this has caused,” said one of the members of Puigdemont’s legal team.
The lawyers say Belgian courts have the jurisdiction to hear the case because they were in the country when Llarena made the comments.
Llarena will have to travel to Belgium to appear in court on September 4. Puigdemont is demanding a symbolic payment of one euro from the judge should he win the case. A victory in the case could force Judge Llarena to step aside from the sedition probe.
Legal sources say Llarena will be represented by Hakim Boularbah, a specialist in private international law. According to the Justice Ministry, the legal defense strategy will be overseen by the state’s legal council, led by Consuelo Castro. In a press release, the ministry said the goal is to “defend the sovereignty and jurisdictional immunity of the Spanish justice system before the Belgian courts.”
PM Sánchez has warning for Catalan premier
The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has warned Catalan premier Quim Torra against his alleged plans to launch another separatist drive on the anniversary of the illegal referendum on Catalan independence on October 1.
Speaking at a press conference in Colombia during his diplomatic tour of Latin America, Sánchez said Torra "knows perfectly well the path that would result from unilateral actions, and the breaking and disregard of the rule of law," referring to the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.
After the illegal referendum of October 1, 2017 and the unilateral declaration of independence that followed, the central government of former PM Mariano Rajoy invoked emergency measures to suspended autonomous powers in the breakaway region using that clause from Spain's Magna Carta.
"The government is willing to speak with the regional government within the law," said Sánchez, who added that "politics should be at the service of social harmony."
Torra replied to Sánchez's comment on Twitter, writing: "Dear prime minister, I thought I had understood that we were going to find a political solution to a political problem. You will always find us on the path that obeys the people of Catalonia, dialogue, social harmony and non-violence."
English version by Melissa Kitson.