CRIME

Princess Letizia's sister targeted by data thieves, police sting reveals

Criminal network included cellphone executives and civil servants, selling information on 3,000 targets per month

Telma Ortiz, photographed in a Barcelona street.
Telma Ortiz, photographed in a Barcelona street.

Telma Ortiz, sister of Princess Letizia, was one of the victims of a criminal ring that stole personal information and sold it to third parties for publication or blackmail purposes. The network is believed to have sold information on some 3,000 people per month, with the data apparently destined for media use in some cases or flat-out blackmail in others.

Over 150 individuals, including police officers, tax and social security workers, cellphone company executives, private detectives and lawyers from big Madrid and Barcelona firms have been arrested in connection with Operation Pitiusa, a raid led by the private security department of the Barcelona police. One of the key people in this web of data thieves was a hacker whose résumé includes occasional work for Spain's CNI intelligence service, and who was able to break into any email account for the right price.

Employees at the cellphone operators Movistar, Orange and Vodafone charged 300 euros apiece for a list of telephone calls made by a targeted individual.

The victims included Ignacio López del Hierro, the husband of Popular Party Secretary General María Dolores de Cospedal, and other targets such as executives from Unilever, the food and household products giant.

Employees at Movistar, Orange and Vodaphone charged 300 euros for lists of calls

In the case of Telma Ortiz, details about her employment history were sold to a private eye, according to Interviú magazine. Sources consulted by EL PAÍS said it was a civil servant working in Barcelona who got information on Ortiz's salary in order to sell it to a television station that was interested in airing it.

Princess Letizia's sister has been complaining for years about the media pressure she is subjected to. In May 2008 she asked a judge in Toledo to forbid 57 news outlets from "capturing, publishing, distributing, disseminating, airing or reproducing" her own or her daughter's image. The judge dismissed her complaint.

In the case of Cospedal's husband, he and four other members of the board of Neoris, a business consulting firm, were spied on as they were having lunch at a Madrid restaurant in September 2011, according to sources within the investigation.

The operation began in early 2011, when the police found out that a former private detective who is currently a local policeman in the town of Santa María de Palautordera in Barcelona province, was allegedly selling information about cars, ID numbers, police records and other sensitive information.

The investigation, which lasted over a year, confirmed the existence of a web of loosely affiliated criminals who charged up to 40,000 euros for certain types of information. Personal records from Social Security or the tax office cost as much as 8,000 euros. Medical records went for around 800 euros, while the ring paid 40 euros to police officers who offered them information from people's ID cards.

In some cases, the confidential information was being bought in order to blackmail the victims. Besides Madrid and Catalonia, the ring had collaborators in almost every region in Spain.

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