Madrid wants former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to return to Spain so he can face trial on charges of sedition.
An Italian judge on Monday postponed the extradition hearing of Catalonia’s former president Carles Puigdemont pending decisions from the European Court of Justice.
Puigdemont’s Italian lawyer, Agostinoangelo Marras, said after the hearing that his client is free to travel and that a new date is to be set after European courts settle two issues.
The Italian court first wants to see how the European Union’s general court will rule on Puigdemont's appeal to the lifting of his immunity as an MEP.
Secondly, the Italian court will wait to see if the European Union Court of Justice rules that the Spanish Supreme Court has the authority to request the extradition of Puigdemont after a Belgian court said in January that it didn't when it requested the return of another associate of Puigdemont.
The Catalan politician, whose hearing was held in a courtroom named after Sardinian anti-mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, welcomed the judge's decision on Twitter.
"Only a fair decision could come out of a courtroom bearing that name," he wrote.
Puigdemont was arrested on September 23 in Sardinia, where he had arrived from his home in Belgium to attend a Catalan cultural festival at the invitation of a Sardinian separatist movement.
He was freed by a judge a day later pending Monday’s extradition hearing.
Spain wants to try the former separatist leader for sedition after he led an illegal 2017 attempt to gain Catalan independence.
He had been in exile in Belgium since the arrest of a number of independence leaders in the Spanish region.
Puigdemont and fellow separatists Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín had their immunity as European Parliament members lifted earlier this year as requested by Spain after the European Union’s general court said that they didn't demonstrate they were at risk of being arrested.
Ponsatí and Comín were among a contingent of high-profile separatists who traveled to Sardinia to show their support for Puigdemont on Monday, triggering a request sent by a Spanish judge to Italy to have them detained as well.
There was no immediate indication they had been taken into custody.
Prosecutors have asked the judge to suspend Puigdemont's extradition proceedings.
A judge doesn't have to accept the prosecutor’s request, but it does signal that there is not a desire to extradite him to Spain.
A group of about 20 supporters rallied outside the courthouse as Puigdemont arrived for the hearing accompanied by his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye. Some members of the crowd shouted “freedom!”
Puigdemont in exile
Puigdemont, 58, has successfully avoided extradition since taking up residence in Waterloo, Belgium.
A Belgian court declined to send him back in 2017, and the following year he was arrested in Germany but a court there also refused to extradite him.
Several of his cohorts who stayed in Barcelona were arrested and found guilty of sedition and the misuse of public funds.
In an attempt to defuse the political crisis he inherited from his conservative predecessor, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez pardoned nine imprisoned separatist leaders in June.
Puigdemont, and others like him who fled, couldn't benefit from the act of grace since they have yet to face justice.
The detention of Puigdemont two weeks ago comes with the former regional president struggling to retain his preeminent role in the Catalonia separatist movement, which has surged in popularity over the past two decades.
Puigdemont’s party has lost the regional presidency of Catalonia and is now the minor member of a coalition led by a separatist rival which is leading talks with Sánchez’s government to resolve the festering crisis.
Puigdemont’s party isn't participating in the head-to-head negotiations which its leaders have criticised as a distraction from rebuilding strength for another secession bid.
Despite already enjoying a good degree of self-rule, polls and election results show that roughly half of Catalans want to form a new state.
The other half wants to remain in Spain given the centuries of cultural and family ties linking Catalonia with the rest of the country.
The majority of Spaniards are against the loss of Catalonia.
Sardinia has historic and cultural ties with Catalonia that date back to the 14th century.