This Tuesday, former president Carles Puigdemont, together with his former ministers Toni Comín, Clara Ponsatí, Meritxell Serret and Lluís Puig announced that they have filed a civil suit in Belgium against the Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena for allegedly violating what Comín referred to as "their right to a fair and equitable trial".
Joining the press conference held in Brussels via a video link from Berlin, Carles Puigdemont stated that, "it has been shown that Judge Llarena does not act with impartiality and, moreover, he is driven by political motives. We are not being prosecuted out of a sense of justice, but on account of the judge’s ideology". Puigdemont added that, "They may persecute us, but we won’t give in".
According to the plaintiffs, Llarena has already been issued a summons to appear before Brussels’ Court of First Instance on 4 September. Since it is a civil lawsuit, a lawyer can appear on behalf of the Supreme Court judge, although Llarena could choose to turn up himself.
Statements made in Oviedo
The exiled Catalan politicians are calling on the Belgian justice system to acknowledge the "damage" caused by Llarena's actions, which, according to the complaint, have failed to respect their right to a fair trial. In the document sent to the Belgian court, the plaintiffs will present as evidence the statements Llarena made at a conference held in February in Oviedo (Spain). The judge insisted that the pro-independence leaders "are not political prisoners".
These words, spoken out of court, are the key to the charges. However, the lawyers also mention statements made by Llarena in his interlocutory statements. Any claim made in a court order is legally protected and free from prosecution. Nevertheless, according to sources close to Puigdemont’s team, such statements serve to demonstrate that Llarena’s decisions were politically motivated.
The five Catalan politicians have also announced that they want Judge Llarena to be disqualified, by the Spanish courts, since they believe he lacks "impartiality". According to Comín, "We feel he must be automatically disqualified from the case since he has made statements outside of the courtroom which are clear evidence of his prejudices".
The former ministers appeared before the media accompanied by their legal team, Christophe Marchand, Michelle Hirsch, Paul Bekaert and Katelijne van Bellingen. According to their lawyers, when a judge is subject to a judicial process for a specific case —including a civil case—, if they are challenged they will automatically be removed from the case.
Once the case was made public, the vice-president of Parliament and JxCat MP, Josep Costa, defended the decision to bring charges against Judge Llarena, claiming that there is "objective" evidence to suggest that the Supreme Court judge ought to be "recused". According to Costa, in keeping with statements made by Puigdemont’s lawyers, the fact that Llarena has a "pending lawsuit" with the parties means that "he can no longer preside over the case involving the president and the ministers in exile".
Ciudadanos’ reaction to the charges: "It’s a ruse to prolong his 'modus vivendi'"
Ciudadanos have criticized the decision by the exiled leaders to bring charges against Llarena. Their parliamentary spokesperson, Carlos Carrizosa, declined to comment on the Belgian judge’s decision to summon Llarena. However, he criticised the exiled politicians for having brought the charges: "It only makes things that bit more complicated. Comín carries on drawing his wages and he has to do this sort of thing as a ruse to make a living, instead of coming here to work and get paid".
The handover of portfolios
Also this Tuesday, Comín, Puig and Serret are to conduct the handover of portfolios to the new ministers of Health, Alba Vergés; Culture, Laura Borràs, and Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food, Teresa Jordà. The new ministers have flown to Brussels to take over as the heads of the various ministries of the Catalan government.
Vergés and Borràs will be making regular trips to the European capital, since they are taking over from Comín and Puig, who were initially appointed ministers by President Quim Torra. As it turned out, Torra had to abandon the idea in order to be able to form a government.