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Finland prepared to detain deposed Catalan leader Puigdemont "if he can be found"

At the request of Spanish authorities, Finland will launch an extradition process targeting deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, although officials say his whereabouts are unknown.

Carles Puigdemont
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont spoke at the University of Helsinki last week. Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

Finland's National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has announced that it will cooperate with a Spanish request to detain former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont "if he can be found". Puigdemont was recently in Finland on a week-long visit, but the NBI statement says that his current whereabouts are unknown to the organisation.

Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen went on record as saying that it is likely that Puigdemont is still in Finland. MP Mikko Kärnä, one of the Catalan leader's hosts during his stay, later commented that Puigdemont had departed the country already Friday evening.

Spain issued a pan-European arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Friday, supplying the Finnish police with more details about the extradition request on Saturday afternoon.

Carles Puigdemont spearheaded a referendum on the Catalan region's independence from Spain in October 2017. The vote found that the vast majority were in favour of secession. The plebiscite was not recognised by Madrid, however, which subsequently imposed direct rule over the autonomous region and dismissed its government. Several ministers of the former Catalan government were arrested, while Puigdemont managed to escape Spain for Belgium.

Part of Spanish crackdown on separatists

NBI investigator Hannu Kautto says if the Finnish police find the Catalan leader, they will consider whether or not to detain him.

"If the police carry out this kind of operation, the prosecutor will confirm the detainment within the allotted time and the matter will proceed to the district court according to the normal detention procedure," Kautto told Yle.

The Spanish news outlet La Vanguardia wrote earlier on Saturday that Puigdemont's lawyer said he was planning to give himself up to the Finnish authorities. Kautto says his bureau has not been informed of anything of this nature.

Five other Catalan separatists were detained under the same arrest warrant in Spain on Friday. Reuters news service reports of crowds of protestors on the streets of Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia in response to the crackdown.

The Spanish Supreme Court ruled that 25 Catalan leaders should be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state, with possible sentences of up to 30 years in prison.

NBI's Kautto says that if Puigdemont leaves the country before the matter is resolved, Finland is no longer under any obligation to carry out an extradition.

Edited at 6:30 pm to add MP Kärnä's comment that Puigdemont had left Finland already Friday evening.

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