Four years after the opening of the judicial investigation to the procés, Judge Pablo Llarena once again faces another compromising situation in Europe. The Italian courts will decide in the coming weeks whether to launch the extradition process for Carles Puigdemont or whether to wait, at the very least, for his European counterparts to decide whether that is possible. For now, the former president of Catalonia has been released with a car that points out that he enjoys the immunity that the position of European parliamentarian gives him and that says that the euro order, contrary to what the Supreme Court judge maintains, is suspended.
Sánchez and Aragonès preserve the dialogue despite the verbal escalation by Puigdemont
Puigdemont, who had originally promised not to leave the island of Sardinia, announced this Saturday that he will travel to Brussels and return to Italy when he has to appear again before the judges of that country, on October 4. That day we will know if the Spanish justice adds a new defeat in its strategy to achieve the extradition of Puigdemont or if, on the contrary, it achieves the first success outside our borders.
Four years after some members of the former Government fled the judicial consequences of the October 1 referendum and the declaration of independence, the Supreme Court has clashed with the courts of Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom. The Spanish justice keeps the number of detained escapees at zero: the only one to pass through Llarena’s office was Meritxell Serret and because she decided to return.
First stumble: arrest warrants
On October 30, 2017, it transpired that Carles Puigdemont and several members of his dismissed Government were in Belgium. That day the Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint already announced for rebellion against him and his councilors, and only a few returned to Spain to answer first before the National Court and then before the Supreme Court. Carles Puigdemont and his former councilors Toni Comín, Clara Ponsatí, Meritxell Serret and Lluís Puig stayed abroad and were searched and arrested by Judge Carmen Lamela, of the National Court. Some international and European arrest warrants assumed by Judge Llarena and that were the first major international stumbling block in the case.
On December 5, 2017, two months after the opening of the case, Llarena took an unexpected turn and withdrew the European arrest warrants. He said then that the fugitives had the intention of “returning to Spain” and revealed a fear that would end up being confirmed: he wanted to prevent the Belgian Justice from “partially” denying the “execution” of the arrest warrants and turning the case into a bucket of Rubik.
Second setback: Germany
The magistrate’s international fate changed by surprise one weekend in 2018. On March 25 of that year, Carles Puigdemont was arrested in Germany as soon as he crossed the border with Denmark, entered the German prison in Neumünster and faced what was he considered a ruthless German Penal Code riddled with distant cousins of the rebellion. A balloon that also deflated: thirteen days later the former president left the Schleswig-Holstein prison and three months later the German judges decided that Llarena would have Puigdemont but accused only of embezzlement, not rebellion.
A decision that fell like a blow to the Prosecutor’s Office and the Supreme Court. “If the acts that have been committed in Spain had been perpetrated in a land of Germany, it does not seem very feasible that everything would be settled with a merely symbolic conviction,” said, for example, the Supreme Court’s appeals chamber. On July 19 of that year, Llarena resigned from the handover, criticizing the “lack of commitment” of his German colleagues to international cooperation.
Third setback: act and immunity
Within our borders the slogan was clear: they were still accused of rebellion and could be arrested at any time. But a new script twist would put the parliamentary immunity tab on the table: Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí won seats in the 2019 European elections. Oriol Junqueras also got it but could never leave prison to take office, although his case was a severe defeat for the Supreme Court: the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recognized in December 2019 that he should have been able to take office without having to swear or promise the position, and that opened the door to that a few days later Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí were collecting their accreditations in the European Parliament.
This recognition introduced a new variable: the immunity of MEPs. The General Court of the European Union took more than two years to endorse the withdrawal of the immunity of Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí in an earthquake that still has an echo today: the Italian judge explains in her order this Friday that she understands that the expresident is protected by parliamentary immunity to go to the European Parliament if necessary. And this is where the great barricade of the independence leaders comes into play: the case of Lluís Puig.
The big stumble: Lluís Puig
On January 8, 2021, the Belgian Justice dealt a new blow to the international branch of the cause of the procés. That day the Prosecutor’s Office resigned to appeal its refusal to hand over the former Minister of Culture: the Belgian judges entered the kitchen of reasoning and understood that the Supreme Court was not competent to prosecute Puig, but the Catalan courts. After that setback, Llarena moved a new file: on March 9, he launched a preliminary question with seven questions for the European courts to rule on the European arrest warrants and their scope. His next steps until Puigdemont’s arrest in Italy depended on the answer.
The CJEU will have to pass judgment and that resolution may turn the tables but, in the meantime, it represents a new obstacle for the Supreme Court. The Italian judge, in a first order, understands that the existence of this preliminary ruling keeps in suspense the arrest warrant that weighs on Carles Puigdemont, who will not have to return to court in Sardinia until 4 October. This Saturday he announced at a press conference that he will return to Brussels on Monday and return to the Italian island on October 4 to appear before the Sassari court. “We are not going to fail our strategy or the Italian justice. On the 4th we will appear together, in person, and we will take the result that we all know we are going to take,” said his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye.
In addition, his defense will also ask next week – Monday or Tuesday – the General Court of the European Union (TGUE) to restore the precautionary measures against the decision of the European Parliament to lift the immunity of Puigdemont, Ponsatí and Comín. Although in the first instance, the Luxembourg-based court agreed to a provisional stoppage of this measure, in a ruling on July 30, it rejected them on the grounds that they were not at risk of being detained in other EU countries, except Spain. while the preliminary ruling presented by the Supreme Court is being decided.
“We believe that the resolution issued yesterday is very important [por el viernes] the release court because it marks the path to where this is going. But, of course, one thing is for us to solve the problem here and another is for us to be calm so that MEPs can continue to circulate freely. That implies that, necessarily, the TGUE is going to have to restore the very precautionary measures that we proposed in their day and that they agreed to, “said the lawyer of the former president.
The balance of the international journey of the cause of the procés is deeply negative for the Supreme Court, at least to date. No arrest warrant has succeeded at the moment and the only escaped person who has ended up in the High Court is Meritxell Serret: the former Minister of Agriculture appeared at its headquarters on March 11 of this year to the surprise of the general public without the need for arrest and when his penal horizon seemed much clearer than three years ago.