A significant judgment for Catalan political affairs has emerged from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) today. It is the case of a German citizen accused of corruption whose extradition was requested by the United States, and its resolution could open a route for the return home of Catalonia's exiled pro-independence leaders. Specifically, this Wednesday's ruling by the CJEU could set a legal precedent for current and future European Arrest Warrants against Carles Puigdemont and his former minister Lluís Puig.
The court's ruling states that a European citizen who has the right to free movement cannot be arrested in order to be put on trial for the same actions for which they have already been definitively tried and given a final verdict in some EU member state. And in the case of Puigdemont and Puig, both have final sentences from EU countries for some of the offences for which the arrest warrants have been issued from Spain. Thus, the CJEU decision could become a barrier to extradition requests from Spain.
Sentence on a German national
The case that the EU court ruled on this Wednesday dates back to 2012. The United States requested the extradition of a German national in a corruption case, but the defendant had already served his sentence. Accordingly, the CJEU ruled in favour of the German citizen using the legal principle non bis in idem according to which "no one is to be liable to be tried or punished again in criminal proceedings for an offence for which he or she has already been finally acquitted or convicted within the European Union in accordance with the law" provided that, if there is a conviction, it has been served or is being served.
The case was presented as a preliminary ruling or consultation to the Luxembourg court by Carles Puigdemont's team of German lawyers. The decision notes that several European legal texts defend the right of EU citizens not to be prosecuted for matters for which they have already been definitively tried and received a final ruling in an EU member state. It therefore determines that the rulings of European courts must be respected throughout the EU.
How could this ruling affect the Catalan exiles's extradition?
Thus, today's ruling in the CJEU could have an impact on the exiled pro-independence politicians and open the door to a future road homewards, especially in the case of exiled president Carles Puigdemont and minister Lluís Puig, both with final decisions from European courts which endorse their defence arguments.
In 2018, a court in Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany, ruled out an offence of rebellion in the request for extradition to Spain of Carles Puigdemont, who was arrested, imprisoned and released in Germany. So, under the non bis in idem principle, it follows that the Spanish state is no longer able to request the Catalan politician's extradition on these grounds, but rather, would be required to respect the Schleswig-Holstein ruling.
"Thank you, Boye, and thanks to the team that planned this strategy from Germany. Discreet and calculated. This is how things change (even if the Catalan opinion makers do not realise)," said Puigdemont in a tweet. According to Lluís Puig, they have been waiting for half a year for the ruling, which although it is not directly linked to the case of the Catalan exiles, will be positive for them.
"It's a step forward in continuing to show that European justice, beyond the Pyrenees, works," said Puig in an interview on Catalan public television, where he was optimistic and urged the pro-independence prisoners and exiles to take their cases to European justice. In his case, the Brussels Court of Appeal confirmed the rejection of his extradition, reiterating that the Spanish Supreme Court was not competent in the case.