SASSARI, Italy (Reuters) -Self-exiled Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont said on Monday he felt he was closer to returning to the northeastern Spanish region after an Italian court suspended a case regarding Spain’s latest extradition request.
A court in Sardinia said its suspension was pending a decision by the European Union Court of Justice on Puigdemont, his legal team said. It was a blow to Spain’s Supreme Court, which had requested his extradition to face sedition charges linked to Catalonia’s 2017 failed independence bid.
“After every victory we are closer (to returning to Catalonia) … let’s hope it does not take much more time”, Puigdemont told a news conference in Alghero a few hours after appearing in court, urging Spain to halt its arrest warrant close to four years after he fled the country.
“It’s time to tell Spain there has been enough of following a path that does not give it any positive result, that complicates reaching a political resolution of a political conflict,” he said, referring to legal battles he has won so far in Germany, Belgium and now Italy.
Puigdemont headed Catalonia’s regional government at the time of a plebiscite on independence that Spanish courts say was illegal.
Italian police arrested the 58-year-old on Sept. 23 after he flew into the island for a Catalan folklore festival.
They were acting under a European arrest warrant issued by Spain, which has demanded Italy extradite Puigdemont.
A judge released Puigdemont less then 24 hours later and allowed him to leave Italy but set Monday’s court hearing to decide on the legality of the warrant.
Lawyers for Puigdemont, who has served as a member of the European Parliament since 2019, argued there were no grounds to arrest him and that he should be free until the European Union Court of Justice resolves their appeal on the parliament’s decision to remove his immunity in March.
Lawyer Agostinangelo Marras told reporters outside the court building – where a few dozen supporters waved Catalan and Sardinian flags and chanted “freedom” and “independence” – Puigdemont could move freely.
The European Union Court of Justice said on Friday it had received a new request from his lawyers to take “provisional measures” so Puigdemont can recover his immunity. It is not immediately clear how long any ruling will take.
Puigdemont has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since late 2017 after Catalonia’s parliament issued a short-lived independence declaration following the unauthorised referendum and the Spanish government took control of the regional government for seven months.
Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine other Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy prison terms in 2019 for their role in the 2017 attempt to break away from Spain. They were pardoned in June.
(Reporting by Guglielmo Mangiapane and Alex Fraser in Sassari and Joan Faus in Barcelona; Additional reporting by Angelo Amante in Rome; Writing by Joan Faus; Editing by Inti Landauro, Clara-Laeila Laudette, Andrew Heavens and Alison Williams)