Lluís Puig, the former Minister of Culture of the Generalitat, who has fled in Belgium for three years, two months and a week, will not be extradited to Spain. The Belgian Prosecutor’s Office announced yesterday that it will not appeal the decision of the courts of that country to deny its delivery to the Spanish justice. The decision will presumably mark what happens in future episodes with the former president of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont and the former councilor Antoni Comín. Both continue to be claimed against Belgium by the Supreme Court magistrate Pablo Llarena, for his role in the independence process of October 2017.
The decision on Puig, whose case has served as a forerunner for the rest by not enjoying immunity as a MEP, has been firm since Friday after the Belgian prosecutor refused to appeal within the stipulated period of the decision issued on Thursday by the Court of Appeal to deny the euro order issued by Llarena, following the example of what a court of first instance did in August.
As explained yesterday by the Catalan politician’s defense, the judgment of the Court of Appeal reiterates the argument already enunciated in the first instance that the Spanish Supreme Court is not the competent body to judge the case (and it would be instead a court of the place of commission of the facts); and added, in addition, another reasoning that once again gives wings to the independence movement: the existence of the risk of violation of the right to the presumption of innocence in case of being extradited to Spain, an argument that the judges would have reached through the enormous documentation in the form of public statements issued by Spanish politicians, judges and prosecutors provided by Puig’s defense.
“It’s practically checkmate,” Gonzalo Boye, one of the lawyers for the pro-independence politicians, snapped yesterday. Boye does not refer only to the case of Puig, but to that of the other two defendants, whose legal path is still safe under the European Parliament. Puigdemont and Comín, after appearing in the European elections in May 2019 and being elected, took the minutes as MEPs in January 2020, which suspended the Euro order issued against them by Llarena and left them safe from being brought before the Belgian justice in the same package as Puig (the case is the same against the three claimed by Spain).
But the Spanish Supreme Court sent a request to the European Parliament requesting that their immunity be withdrawn. Last November, a procedure began that would last another two months. The second session, of the four scheduled, will take place next Thursday, January 14, and it will hear the position of Puigdemont, Comín and the former councilor and MEP Clara Ponsatí, also claimed by Spain, but whose cause would be substantiated in Scotland. where he settled after escaping from Catalonia.
A committee of the European Parliament will have to decide whether or not to lift the immunity and will issue a recommendation to the Plenary of the Chamber, in charge of ratifying it or not. In this procedure the odds are not on the side of pro-independence politicians: of the 60 cases of this type that the European Parliament substantiated in the last legislature (2014-2019), MEPs raised it 55 times (more than 90%), according to this newspaper’s count.
But this is where the chess game comes into play, which according to the lawyer Boye borders on checkmate: if Parliament decided to lift their immunity, the case of Puigdemont and Comín would land on the table of the same judges who already rejected Lluis’s extradition Puig last August. And if the prosecution were to appeal the foreseeable decision of this (something now less likely, since it has already been inhibited) the matter would reach the same judges of the Court of Appeal that already denied the extradition on Thursday. “The result will be the same,” says Boye. “Spain has lost the battle of our extradition,” Puigdemont said yesterday in a statement.
The decision of the Belgian justice on the former councilor Lluís Puig could have consequences on the rest of those already convicted by the process: in case they decided to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (right now the case is in the Spanish Constitutional Court), they could already argue the existence of a precedent in another country of the European Union: that of Puig.
An expert lawyer in Euro-orders describes as “barbarity” the arguments used by the Belgian justice to reject the extradition. “The competence of the judge who issues the euro order cannot be questioned,” he criticizes. “If European judges today are dedicated to assessing the competition of another country, we are lost,” he adds. But he concedes that, once the decision has been made by the Belgian justice system, the capacity for reaction from the Supreme Court is already “limited”.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.