CATALONIA TRIAL

Judge reactivates European warrant for Carles Puigdemont’s arrest

In the wake of today’s ruling, the Supreme Court is seeking to persuade Belgium to hand the former Catalan premier over to the Spanish authorities to face trial

Carles Puigdemont pictured in Brussels earlier this month.
Carles Puigdemont pictured in Brussels earlier this month.KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Afp)

Carles Puigdemont, who was the Catalan regional premier during the October 2017 independence drive, was not a defendant in the Supreme Court trial that concluded today with the release of the judges’ ruling and the handing down of convictions. But he and the other six secessionist leaders who fled Spain to avoid arrest have been indirectly affected by today’s sentence.

The Supreme Court judge who was in charge of investigating the case has today called for European and international arrest warrants against Puigdemont to be reactivated, so that he can be brought back to Spain to face trial for the offenses of sedition and misuse of public funds. For now, only the warrants for Puigdemont’s detention have been reactivated, with the rest to be studied in the coming days.

Judge Pablo Llarena withdrew an arrest warrant against the former Catalan premier, who is currently living in Belgium, after the German authorities refused to hand him over to Spain to face rebellion charges based on his involvement in the October 2017 referendum on secession from Spain and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence. Since then, the Supreme Court has only maintained a domestic arrest warrant for all of those who fled the country in 2017, meaning that they would be detained as soon as they set foot on Spanish soil.

The Supreme Court judge is hopeful that in the wake of today’s ruling – which has found nine of the jailed Catalan secession leaders guilty of sedition, handing them down jail terms ranging from nine to 13 years – the countries where the politicians fled to will reconsider handing them over to Spain. Puigdemont and former regional ministers Toni Comín, Meritxell Serret and Lluís Puig are all in Belgium; former minister Clara Ponsatí is in Scotland, while ex-general secretary of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) Marta Rovira and the ex-parliamentary leader of the anti-capitalist CUP, Anna Gabriel, are both in Switzerland.

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case, the Spanish justice system will not have an easy time convincing their Belgian counterparts to extradite Puigdemont to face sedition charges. As well as the fact that the offense has no clear equivalent in practically any other European criminal code, the strategy adopted by Judge Llarena has already run into difficulties in Belgium and Germany, given that the courts in those countries did not agree with the Spanish justice system’s take on the actions of the former regional premier.

Given that Puigdemont is currently residing in Waterloo, the Spanish judges will once more have to convince their Belgian counterparts that he should be handed over. But the courts in Belgium rejected the European arrest warrants against the other Catalan independence leaders residing in that country back in May, prompting Judge Llarena to withdraw all such orders against the politicians who fled Spain until the Supreme Court ruling arrived. Even with the ruling, however, the path ahead for the Spanish judges will not be easy.

English version by Simon Hunter.