Puigdemont could return to Catalonia in attempt to retake office

Fugitive ex-president’s party says he will seek legal go-ahead to attend investiture debate

The fugitive former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont could return to the region this week in an attempt to retake office, three months after he was sacked by the Spanish government over his push for secession.

Puigdemont has been in self-imposed exile in Brussels since the end of October, when the Madrid government responded to the Catalan parliament’s unilateral declaration of independence by firing the regional government and assuming direct control of Catalonia.

In an election in December, the three pro-independence Catalan parties retained their majority, and Puigdemont has been proposed as the only candidate for president.

However, he faces arrest on possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds the moment he sets foot in Spain.

On Saturday, Spain’s constitutional court ruled that the ousted leader could not participate in an investiture debate on Tuesday via video conference or by getting one of his MPs to read a speech in his place.

Judges at the court said Puigdemont’s investiture would be suspended unless he appeared in person in parliament with “prior judicial authorisation”. Hours later, Puigdemont’s party said he would seek legal permission to attend the session.

On Sunday morning, a spokesman for Together for Catalonia said: “If [constitutional court judge Pablo] Llarena allows it, and we think he’ll act freely, Puigdemont will come and explain his plan for government.”

The constitutional court judges said they would need six further days to consider the Spanish government’s request to annul Puigdemont’s candidacy for president, prompting him to tweet that the court had rejected what he called an attempt at “legal fraud”.

On Friday, Spain’s deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, said: “The government must use every tool made available by the laws and the constitution to make sure that a fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately be sworn in.”

Josep Rull, a Together for Catalonia MP, said the court’s decision was “an open-handed slap in the face” for the deputy prime minister.

While the legal measures imposed on Puigdemont were unprecedented and improper, Rull said, the former leader would respect the constitutional court’s ruling, but he would need guarantees over his investiture.

Although Puigdemont is the sole presidential candidate, an MP from another pro-independence party hinted on Sunday that he could be replaced if necessary.

Joan Tardà of the Catalan Republican Left party said while the plan was to see Puigdemont sworn in as president, with the jailed ERC leader Oriol Junqueras returning as vice-president, things could change.

“What’s essential is that we have a government; if we have to sacrifice president Puigdemont, we’ll have to sacrifice him,” he said.