EXILED former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has sensationally been arrested by Italian police in Sardinia on a European arrest warrant his office said had been suspended by the European Court of Justice.

He stands accused by Spain of sedition for his part in the 2017 indyref in Catalonia, which Spanish courts ruled was illegal.

Puigdemont is now an MEP, along with his former ministers Clara Ponsati and Toni Comin and all three live in Belgium.

In March, the European Parliament stripped them of the immunity they had enjoyed since 2019, but a Belgian court dismissed the warrants because the charge of rebellion does not exist in that country’s law.

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Puigdemont’s office said he had travelled to the Sardinian city of Alghero yesterday afternoon to attend an international exhibition and to meet with the regional head of Sardinia and its ombudsman.

In a statement his office said: “When he arrived at the Alghero airport, he was stopped by the Italian border police.

“Tomorrow he will be placed at the disposal of the judges of the court of appeal of Sassari, which is competent to decide whether to release him or extradite him.”

Gonzalo Boye, the former president’s lawyer, confirmed his arrest in a tweet, adding that it was made on the basis of a European arrest warrant from October 2019, which, by “legal imperative – as stated by the European Court of Justice, is suspended”.

There is confusion over the status of the arrest warrants after many months of toing and froing between the Spanish and EU judicial authorities.

In March, The Spanish Supreme Court submitted a request to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on the case of Lluís Puig, another former government member in exile.

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However, Belgium rejected Spain’s hopes of extraditing Puig, the former culture minister also, in January, after judges said they believed the court did not have the authority to try him since he no longer had a post in government.

They also raised concerns that Puig’s presumption of innocence was at risk in Spain.

The Supreme Court had hoped for clarification on the criteria for European arrest warrants so it could issue new charges for the exiled leaders, including Puigdemont, with a better chance of having them extradited, following three previous failed attempts since 2017.

However, it is far from clear that the court reactivated the warrants, despite the fact that judges are still awaiting a response from the EU court to their request in March for clarification on the warrants.
The arrest provoked fury in Catalonia, with President Pere Aragonès tweeting: “Facing judicial persecution and repression, we express the most energic condemnation. It must stop. Amnesty is the only way out. Self-determination, the only solution.”

Victòria Alsina, the Catalan foreign minister, said the cabinet believes the arrest is “irregular”, because the warrant used had been suspended.

She told  TV3 in an interview they had been in touch with “European, Italian and Sardinian authorities” about it.

Alsina added that last month Puigdemont had travelled to Northern Catalonia, a Catalan-speaking territory now in France, and was not arrested.

Laura Borras, the speaker of the Catalan parliament, who is also a member of Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia (JxCat) party, accused Spain of being “obsessed” with the former president because he “reveals its democratic shame”.

She told TV3: “it's obvious that Puigdemont is Spain's main public enemy … the state will do everything in its hands to get him extradited.”

As demonstrations were growing outside the Italian consulate in Barcelona, Spain defended Puigdemont’s arrest, saying: “He must face justice just like any other citizen.”

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “The detention is due to an ongoing judicial procedure that applies to any citizen of the European Union who must answer for his actions before the courts.

“Puigdemont must submit to the action of justice just like any other citizen.

“The [Spanish] government expresses … its respect for the decisions of the Italian authorities and courts, as it has always done with the Spanish and European courts that have issued rulings in court proceedings affecting Mr Puigdemont.”