The so-called “Operation Catalonia” has now been confirmed. Yesterday Spanish police superintendent José Manuel Villarejo made a statement before a Madrid judge admitting that he had toiled with the former chief of the Internal Affairs division (Marcelino Martín Blas) to stop the Catalan independence process, Europa Press reports. The superintendent revealed that a secret operation had been underway in recent years in order to find corruption cases involving Catalan independence party leaders, as this newspaper reported at the end of 2014.
How did the operation —now confirmed by Villarejo— work? Spain’s National Police set up a secret unit exclusively devoted to gathering information about alleged wrongdoings and offences committed by Catalan politicians. The members of said unit hid their true purpose behind two other divisions that already existed: Planning & Strategy and Internal Affairs. Their job was to collect and sort details about possible scandals involving Catalan politicians which they then took to court via other police units (such as UDEF, the financial crime unit) or leaked to the Spanish press, at critical times during the independence process. This way their work remained under cloak and beyond the reach of the judiciary. Both Villarejo and Martín Blas took it upon themselves to meet Barcelona’s anti-corruption prosecutors, offered their services on the Millet case and actually suggested a search of the HQ of Convergència Democràtica, Artur Mas’ party.
This dynamic is consistent with the content of the conversations —revealed by Público, a Spanish online newspaper, ahead of the Spanish election of June 26— between Spain’s caretaker Home Secretary Jorge Fernández Díaz and Daniel de Alfonso, the former Director of Catalonia’s Anti-Fraud Office. The tapes prove that both officials plotted to smear the Catalan independence movement in the lead up to the mock independence referendum of November 9, 2014.
Fernández Díaz’s denial
Even though Villarejo yesterday confirmed the conspiracy in a court of law, when this newspaper ran a story about a secret anti-independence unit, the Spanish Home Secretary formally denied it. Fernández Díaz himself assured in parliament that it was “completely untrue”. When questioned about it by CiU MPs in Madrid, Fernández accused the Catalan nationalist group of “feeling persecuted even in their sleep” and to start a debate more befitting of a “psychiatrist” than him. Fernández Díaz put the whole police affair down to a separatist “obssession”.
Villarejo’s confession of Operation Catalonia was almost a side note during his statemet. The Superintendent’s admission came after he was summoned following formal charges in connection with the “Pequeño Nicolás” affair. The judge intends to find out who conducted the illegal recording of a conversation on October 20 2014 between Martín Blas, inspector Rubén López and two Spanish intelligence officers who were discussing the conduct of Francisco Nicolás Gómez Iglesias, aka “el Pequeño Nicolás”. Although they worked closely together to halt the Catalan independence process, the two police officials do not get on at present and, according to Europa Press, this became evident during Villarejo’s statement. Their differences date back to Operation Emperor against the Chinese mafia, when Martín Blas investigated other police officers without the judge’s knowledge. This led to Martín being suspended from Internal Affairs and reassigned to the Advisory Council of Ignació Cosidó, the Police Commissioner, and he only left this position when judge Zamarriego assigned him to investigate the Nicolay case. Last May Martín Blas requested an arrest order against Villarejo for the illegal recordings.
CDC and ERC demand an explanation
Following Villarejo’s words, the Catalan pro-independence parties demanded an explanation in the Spanish parliament to determine who is to be held accountable. Speaking to this newspaper, Lourdes Ciuró —the CDC spokesperson for home affairs in Madrid’s parliament until now— announced that her group will formally question Fernández Díaz and Villarejo in parliament and will request a formal inquest. She remarked that “anything goes when it comes to preserving Spain’s unity, which is very dangerous”. ERC spokesman in Madrid, Joan Tardà, said to ARA that they will use “every parliamentary resource within our reach” to ascertain what has been going on.
Conservative judges oppose De Alfonso’s comeback
Yesterday Spain’s Professional Association of Judges issued a note about Daniel de Alfonso’s expected return to the bench. The former director of Catalonia’s Anti-Fraud Office has made it clear that he intends to ask for his position back in Barcelona’s High Court. The conservative-leaning group criticises the fact that judges may be allowed back on the bench after a political appointment. The association of judges believes that when one accepts a political appointment “there is an apparent loss of independence and neutrality, which are a requirement for the office of judge”. De Alfonso was a member of the Professional Association of Judges from 2000 to 2004. The conservative association is looking to amend “the system of revolving doors”. According to the note, at present “any judge in this situation gets to keep his job and seniority, he may apply for other posts and, once his appointment is over —for whatever reason— he may immediately go back to his old job on the bench”. That is what De Alfonso is expected to do, after the Catalan parliament sacked him following the leaked conversations with Spanish Home Secretary Fernández Díaz.
The Professional Association feels that the wording of the article of the law that regulates the judiciary is “inconsistent”. The note about independence and neutrality goes on to say that “if we take these values seriously, we cannot think that they are automatically regained simply by rejoining the judiciary”.
ARA first reported on the anti-independence police unit in November 2014
On November 30 2014 this newspaper first reported that Spain’s National Police had set up a secret unit in 2012 whose only mission was to track information about alleged wrongdoings and offences committed by Catalan politicians with a view to using it against independence. The Home Office always formally denied its existence and only a handful of high-ranking officials in Fernández Díaz’s ministry knew the details of its activities.