Judge delays ruling on Spain’s extradition request for Puigdemont

Catalonia’s former separatist leader Carles Puigdemont has walked out of a Sardinian courthouse after a judge delayed a decision on Spain’s extradition request and said he was free to travel.

Puigdemont walked out with his lawyer, shook hands and embraced supporters, saying he was “very happy”, as he got in a van and was whisked away.

His Italian lawyer, Agostinangelo Marras, told reporters a ruling on his extradition to Spain, where he is accused of sedition, is waiting on decisions by a high court in Europe regarding Puigdemont’s immunity. But Marras said his client was free to travel as he pleased in the meantime.

Puigdemont was arrested on 23 September in Sardinia, where he had arrived from his home in Belgium to attend a Catalan cultural festival at the invitation of a Sardinian separatist movement. He was freed by a judge a day later pending Monday’s extradition hearing.

In March, Puigdemont and fellow separatists Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín had their immunity as European parliament members lifted as requested by Spain after the European Union’s general court said they had not demonstrated they were at risk of being arrested. Spain had requested immunity be lifted.

Ponsatí and Comín were among a contingent of high-profile separatists who travelled to Sardinia on Monday to show their support for Puigdemont, triggering a request sent by a Spanish judge to Italy to have them detained as well. There was no immediate indication they had been taken into custody.

Prosecutors have asked the judge to suspend Puigdemont’s extradition proceedings, a request the judge does not have to accept, but it does signal that there is no desire to extradite him to Spain.

A group of about 20 supporters rallied outside the courthouse as he arrived for the hearing accompanied by his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye. Some members of the crowd shouted “freedom!”

Puigdemont, 58, has successfully avoided extradition since taking up residence in Waterloo, Belgium, after leading an illegal 2017 secession attempt by the wealthy Catalonia region in north-eastern Spain.

After a Belgian court declined to send him back in 2017, he was arrested the following year in Germany but a court there also refused to extradite him.

Several of his cohorts who stayed in Barcelona were arrested and found guilty of sedition and misusing public funds.

In an attempt to defuse the political crisis he inherited from his conservative predecessor, the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, pardoned nine imprisoned separatist leaders in June. Puigdemont, and others like him who fled, could not benefit from the act of grace since they have yet to face justice.

The detention of Puigdemont two weeks ago came with the former regional president struggling to retain his pre-eminent role in the Catalan separatist movement, which has surged in popularity over the past two decades.

Puigdemont’s party has lost the regional presidency of Catalonia and is now the minor member of a coalition led by a separatist rival, which is leading talks with Sánchez’s government to resolve the festering crisis. Puigdemont’s party is not participating in the negotiations its leaders have criticised as a distraction from rebuilding its strength for another unilateral secession attempt.

Despite already enjoying a degree of self-rule, polls and election results show that roughly half of Catalans want to form a new state. The other half wants to remain in Spain, given the centuries of cultural and family ties linking Catalonia with the rest of the country.

The majority of Spaniards are against the loss of Catalonia, which for decades has represented a land of opportunity for those who moved there from poorer regions.

Sardinia has historic and cultural ties with Catalonia that date back to the 14th century.

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