23rd February 2024
Carles Puigdemont
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Puigdemont claims PSOE offered him a pardon in exchange for surrendering to Spanish justice

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has revealed in a radio interview with Catalan station RAC1 that ‘people from the PSOE’, the socialist party led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, had previously ‘offered him a pardon in exchange for surrendering to Spanish justice and spending time in prison’.

He said ‘that is the only proposition that the socialists and the Spanish government have made’, and added: ‘Every day I think about how I may never return, because I will not give in. I do not want a pardon.’

The interview [see Tweet from RAC1 below] follows a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on Wednesday, that stripped the former leader of Catalonia’s failed bid for independence from the legal immunity he had as a member of the European Parliament (MEP), as he faces legal procedures in Spain.

The court also dismissed a challenge brought by the former leader and two other Catalan MEPs over the European Parliament stripping them of their immunity at Spain’s request.

The court said it ‘rejects all the pleas’ made by the three – Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí – effectively confirming the parliament’s 2021 decision.

Spain had asked for their immunity as MEPs to be lifted so that it could pursue legal action against the trio for a 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia that Madrid had banned.

Puigdemont, the Catalan leader at the time, had led efforts to stage the referendum along with Ponsati and Comín. The vote was marred by police violence.

Several weeks later, the Catalan administration issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering a political crisis.

Puigdemont, Ponsati and Comín fled abroad to escape jail in Spain, with all three ending up in self-exile in Belgium, where they have been legislators in the European Parliament since 2019.

They had lodged a challenge to the lifting of their immunity, and Wednesday’s decision by the EU’s General Court — one of the tribunals making up the CJEU — was a ruling on that.

The court rejected their argument that the European Parliament’s principle of impartiality had been violated.

It also determined that ‘the parliament is not required to examine the legality of the Spanish judicial acts’ as that issue comes ‘exclusively’ under the competence of Spanish authorities.

It dismissed all the actions brought by the trio, ‘in particular their arguments that the parliament erred in concluding that the legal proceedings at issue were not brought with the intention of damaging the members’ activities’.

The decision is a blow for Puigdemont, who lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium, because it could pave the way for him to eventually be extradited to Spain, as Spanish authorities have requested for the past six years.

Puigdemont said on Twitter the three MEPs would appeal to the CJEU.

‘We will defend our fundamental rights until the end,’ he tweeted.

In January, Spain’s Supreme Court dropped sedition charges against Puigdemont after a reform of the country’s penal code abolished the crime.

However, he still faces charges of disobedience and embezzlement, which carry jail terms of up to five years. Sedition carried a maximum jail term of 15 years.

Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena said he would submit a new extradition request to Belgian authorities for Puigdemont to face trial on the lesser charges, depending on the EU courts’ rulings.

Spain’s previous attempts to have Puigdemont extradited during his stays in Germany, Belgium and Italy have failed.

Background to Catalan political conflict

Nine Catalan politicians and activists were jailed for between 9-13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019, convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the 2017 illegal referendum, with the verdicts causing widespread protests across Catalonia. In June 2021, the nine walked free from prison, following pardons granted by the government led by socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, but they remained banned from holding public office.

Late last year, Spain passed a controversial criminal code reform that downgraded the two charges used against them, abolishing sedition and replacing it with that of aggravated public disorder, and also reducing the penalty for misuse of public funds.

Misuse of public funds can carry prison time of between six months and up to five years if convicted, but disobedience only carries a disqualification from public office.

Carles Puigdemont
Carles Puigdemont (right), with Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, shortly after all three had received their MEP credentials. (Archive)

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