BRUSSELS (AP) — A European Union court decided Tuesday to restore the parliamentary immunity for three former top Catalan officials who fled Spain fearing arrest over a secessionist push they led in the region.
The decision by the general court is the latest episode in the legal saga on the fate of the former president of Spain’s Catalonia region, Carles Puigdemont, and two of his associates, former Catalan health minister Toni Comín and former Catalan education minister Clara Ponsatí.
Puigdemont and a number of his separatist colleagues fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing arrest after holding an independence referendum for Catalonia that the Spanish courts and government said was illegal.
In 2019, Puigdemont and his two associates won seats in the European Parliament and were afforded protection as members of the EU assembly. But the European Parliament last year lifted their immunity and Puigdemont was later arrested in Sardinia but allowed to walk free after a judge delayed a decision on Spain’s extradition request.
The Italian court first wanted to see how the European Union’s general court would rule on Puigdemont’s appeal to the lifting of his immunity as a MEP that the Luxembourg-based EU court confirmed in July.
Puigdemont, 59, has successfully avoided extradition since taking up residence in Waterloo, Belgium, and has not been stopped from working. In its order, the court however noted that “the fact that the Belgian authorities have not surrendered the appellants to the Spanish authorities cannot be used to rule out the high probability of their arrest.”
The judicial battle is expected to continue for months, if not years, since avenues for appeal remain open.