The aphorism "information is power" has so far been partially valid for José Manuel Villarejo (El Carpio, Córdoba, 1951). The numerous secrets accumulated over more than twenty years by the former commissioner of the National Police, who was investigated as a leading figure in the Tandem case, have served to put police, politicians, political parties, businessmen and even the Spanish monarchy on the ropes, but have been insufficient to guarantee his freedom. This Thursday is the third year since he was provisionally imprisoned in Estremera, an exceptionally long period - the law only allows preventive imprisonment without trial for a maximum of four years - and during which corruption scandals have not ceased to appear around a case that has already accumulated 28 separate pieces - three of which are closed - in the National Court.
"Only 5% or 10% has come out, there is still time to bring it all out. There are many things that are being hidden," Villarejo himself said this Tuesday in an interview with El País. The authorities seized 20 terabytes of information from the ex-commissioner. Arrested two days before entering prison for allegedly facilitating the irregular entry into Spain of Guinean citizens, he is accused of belonging to a criminal organisation, bribery, discovery and disclosure of secrets, money laundering and forgery. However, Villarejo, who retired in 2016, became famous due to his countless recordings of meetings he had over the years with prominent figures from the Spanish political, judicial, business and media elite. Those who appear, some of whom have allegedly made use of his contacts and investigative and espionage services outside the law, are now trying to disassociate themselves from him and avoid being harmed.
There are those who have not managed to do so, and Juan Carlos I is the paradigmatic example. The recent exile of the former King has its clearest origin in the audios published two years ago by several Spanish media of a meeting in London in 2015 between Villarejo and Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a businesswoman and ex-lover of Juan Carlos. She claimed she had collected 65 million euros in commissions from Saudi Arabia for the high speed train contract to Mecca on his behalf. This case is now being investigated both in Spain and Switzerland - where that money is said to have ended up - and has been instrumental in Juan Carlos's fall from grace.
Villarejo acted as part of "the structure of the state" by helping parties and governments in missions that were entrusted to him as an undercover agent, as acknowledged by the former commissioner's defence last year. The right wing People's Party (PP) is the worst hit. One of the first to go down was the former president of the Community of Madrid, Ignacio González, who ended up in prison after the Lezo case. As revealed by El Mundo in 2015, in a 2011 recording González is said to have asked Villarejo and other commissioners to cover up the investigation into his penthouse in Estepona, which he received as a gift from the Gürtel corruption scheme. "The thing is that if it comes out... this is what I don't want," said González.
He was not alone seeking to cover up corruption. The former secretary general of the PP and former defence minister, María Dolores de Cospedal, was also at it and it cost her her political career. Her husband, Ignacio López del Hierro, contacted Villarejo to obtain information about the advances in the Gürtel investigation before they took place, and later it was Cospedal who directly requested the services of the former commissioner. The PP also allegedly commissioned him to investigate one of their own party leaders and the brother of former socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, as well as the people behind other corruption investigations. According to the Public Prosecutor's Office, the then Minister of Home Affairs, Jorge Fernández Díaz - now also standing trial for this case - is said to have spied on his own treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, between 2013 and 2015 in order to recover documents that damaged the party. For all the dirty work, Cospedal owed him "100,000 euros plus expenses," Villarejo complained in a conversation which appears on the case summary.
The former commissioner, who in 2004 was also reportedly paid by BBVA bank to try to prevent the construction company Sacyr from joining the bank's board of directors, said in El País that the PP's orders came from "much higher up", in reference to former president Mariano Rajoy. For the moment, however, there is no evidence of the involvement of the former Spanish president, nor of the Socialist Party, despite the fact that, in an interview on Tuesday, the former commissioner stated that the information he gathered contained "a great deal" that could affect the Socialists. So far, the Socialist Party has been hit by the compromising recordings of former Justice Minister Dolores Delgado published in September 2018. At a lunch in October 2009 with several police officers, the current state attorney general made sexist comments and referred rudely to the homosexuality of current Minister of Home Affairs, Fernando Grande-Marlaska. Delgado, who initially denied ever having met Villarejo, also admitted in the recordings to having met judges and state prosecutors with minors during a professional trip to Colombia.
The Deep State
"The Kitchen [corruption scandal] Commission has been set up [in Congress] and the PP and Socialists have agreed that I shouldn't go," the retired commissioner lamented on Tuesday. However, the other party in the coalition government, Podemos, has confirmed that it will request his appearance in Congress. Podemos was one of the victims of the parapolice network in which Villarejo participated in order to harm the government's political opponents. This is the origin of the PISA Report (Pablo Iglesias Sociedad Anónima), which appeared in 2016 during the negotiations between the PSOE and Podemos to form a government -which then failed- and according to which Podemos was irregularly financed through Iran and Venezuela. Another of its most outstanding assignments of this patriotic police, under the orders of former minister Fernández Díaz, was operation Catalunya. It sought to pile dirt on the pro-independence parties and torpedo the independence bid that, according to Villarejo, was paid for with reserved funds.
We'll have to wait to see whether the Socialists will finally give a green light to the commissioner's explanations in Congress, but the former commissioner will have to give them at some point in the courts. In the meantime, the trial is dragging on. By November 2021, the arguments for keeping him in provisional detention will be over if it has not yet taken place. The decision is in the hands of Judge Manuel García-Castellón, who replaced Diego de Egea as investigating judge in the case after he had numerous disagreements with the prosecutors over the possibility of releasing the accused. For the moment, Villarejo defended on Tuesday the legitimacy of the deep state to "clean up the shit that others generate", and was convinced that for this reason many would want to eliminate him: "If this were a serious country, I'd have already been killed," he said. Time will tell if "information is power" ends up being his best epitaph.