SASSARI, Sardinia (AP) – Catalonia’s former separatist leader Carles Puigdemont left a Sardinian courthouse on Monday after a judge delayed a decision on Spain’s extradition request and said he was free to travel.
Puigdemont walked away with his lawyers, shaking hands and hugging supporters, saying he was “very happy” when he got into a van and was taken away. He then said on social media that he would be attending the afternoon session of the European Parliament via video link from the Mediterranean island.
His Italian lawyer, Agostinangelo Marras, told reporters that a decision on extradition to Spain, where he is charged with sedition, is still pending when two issues are already under consideration by European courts. But he said his client could travel as he pleased in the meantime.
“He is absolutely free. The court will set a new date after the European Court of Justice has decided on the two pending questions. One is the immunity of President Piugdemont and the other is the legitimacy of the Spanish judge to issue the arrest warrant, “Piugdemont’s Italian lawyer Agostinoangelo Marras told The Associated Press.
The Italian court will first see how the General Court of Justice of the European Union will rule on Puigdemont’s appeal against the waiver of his immunity as Member of the European Parliament, which that court upheld in July. Second, the Italian court will wait to see if the Court of Justice of the European Union will rule that the Spanish Supreme Court has jurisdiction to request the extradition of Puigdemont after a Belgian court said in January that it was not when it was returning it from Puigdemont requested another employee from Puigdemont.
Puigdemont was arrested on September 23 in Sardinia, where he had come from his Belgian homeland at the invitation of a Sardinian separatist movement to take part in a Catalan cultural festival. He was released a day later by a judge pending the extradition hearing on Monday.
Puigdemont and the other separatists Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín were waived their immunity as Members of the European Parliament at the request of Spain earlier this year after the General Court of the European Union declared that they had not shown that they were at risk of arrest.
Ponsatí and Comín were among a contingent of high-ranking separatists who traveled to Sardinia on Monday to demonstrate their support for Puigdemont, which sparked a motion from a Spanish judge to Italy to arrest them too. There was no evidence that they had been taken into custody.
A group of around 20 supporters gathered outside the courthouse when Puigdemont arrived for the hearing. Some members of the crowd shouted “Freedom!” and waved the Catalan separatist flags.
58-year-old Puigdemont has successfully evaded extradition from his residence in Waterloo, Belgium, after leading an illegal secession attempt in wealthy Catalonia in northeastern Spain in 2017.
After a Belgian court rejected him in 2017, he was arrested in Germany the following year, but a court there also refused to extradite him.
“We have been confronted with three extradition orders in three different legal systems: the Belgian, the German and the Italian,” said Puigdemont. “It is time to say to Spain: ‘Enough!’ that this path leads nowhere and does not help to resolve a political conflict between Catalonia and Spain. “
Several cohorts of Puigdemont who stayed in Barcelona after the failed secession attempt were arrested and found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds.
To defuse the political crisis inherited from his conservative predecessor, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez pardoned nine detained separatist leaders in June. Puigdemont and others like him who fled could not benefit from the act of grace as they are still on trial.
Puigdemont’s detention two weeks ago is linked to the former regional president’s struggle to maintain his prominent role in Catalonia’s separatist movement, which has grown in popularity over the past two decades.
Puigdemont’s party has lost Catalonia’s regional presidency and is now the subordinate of a coalition led by a separatist rival in talks with the Sánchez government to resolve the simmering crisis. Puigdemont’s party is not participating in the negotiations, which its leaders criticized as a diversion from rebuilding forces for another unilateral secession offer.
“While some are trying to speak to the Spanish government, others like Puigdemont are undermining state institutions,” said Jordi Puigneró, the leading member of Puigdemont’s party in the Catalan government.
Surveys and election results show that despite the fact that they already have good self-determination, around half of the Catalans want to found a new state. The other half would like to stay in Spain given the centuries-old cultural and family ties that link Catalonia with the rest of the country.
The majority of Spaniards are against the loss of Catalonia, which has been a land of unlimited opportunities for immigrants from poorer regions for decades.
Sardinia has historical and cultural links with Catalonia that date back to the 14th century.
Colleen Barry reported from Milan and Joseph Wilson from Barcelona, Spain.