Network of “moles” uncovered in sweeping spying case in Spain

Five policemen and one Tax Agency employee are under scrutiny for allegedly giving confidential information to ex-police chief José Manuel Villarejo

The retired commissionerJosé Manuel Villarejo in the courts of Plaza de Castilla
The retired commissionerJosé Manuel Villarejo in the courts of Plaza de CastillaAlvaro Garcia

Five Spanish police officers and one Tax Agency employee have been targeted in a sweeping court investigation into an alleged espionage network headed by a retired police chief named José Manuel Villarejo.

Villarejo, 67, is at the center of a case involving 20 years’ worth of phone taps, undercover recordings and other invasions of privacy against scores of politicians, business people, judges and journalists.

Villarejo earned €300,000 for a job against a law firm, according to the prosecution

He is believed to have run a profitable side business by selling sensitive information to wealthy clients looking for leverage against their adversaries. He allegedly had a network of “moles” working for him at banks, telecommunications companies and even the Tax Agency; these employees provided him with phone records, bank accounts and tax returns containing confidential information about his own clients’ targets. Spain’s second-largest bank, BBVA, is alleged to have contracted his services.

Although he has been in pre-trial custody since November 2017, Villarejo is thought to have ordered a trickle of recent leaks to the media, all of which have caused embarrassment to several high-profile individuals, including former Spanish King Juan Carlos I, and Justice Minister Dolores Delgado.

Last week, Villarejo sent an open letter to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), in which he threatened to disclose, in his own defense, the “real reasons” why he is being portrayed as “the country’s public enemy number one.”

“Operation Kitchen”

Judge Manuel García-Castellón, who sits on Spain’s High Court (Audiencia Nacional), will take statements on Thursday from Villarejo and from two high-ranking policemen who are believed to have worked closely with him.

Villarejo (above) is alleged to have run his profitable investigation business for years.
Villarejo (above) is alleged to have run his profitable investigation business for years.Cristóbal Manuel

Commissioners Enrique García Castaño and Eugenio Pino will testify about “Operation Kitchen,” a 2013 police operation to spy on former Popular Party (PP) treasurer Luis Bárcenas without a court warrant. Bárcenas is himself at the center of a corruption scandal that ultimately cost former PM Mariano Rajoy his job in late May, when a no-confidence vote brought down his government.

On Wednesday, the judge included five police officers and a Tax Agency employee in the larger  investigation. All six are believed to have given Villarejo confidential information about partners in a law firm, to be used against the latter by one of Villarejo’s clients (a rival firm). This particular job earned the police chief €300,000 according to the prosecutors’ report.

In another related case under investigation, Villarejo allegedly secured information about a businessman and a lawyer with a view to blackmailing them. Two other police officers are under scrutiny for their presumed involvement: a deputy inspector specializing in anti-terrorist activities and a local officer from Granada.

English version by Susana Urra.


More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS