Spanish government to investigate intelligence agency and declassify information after Catalangate

Catalan government rejects proposal and urges for resignations warning political support not granted

Catalan presidency minister Laura Vilagrà, left, seating in front of Spanish counterpart Félix Bolaños in the Catalan government HQ on April 24, 2022 (by Maria Asmarat)
Catalan presidency minister Laura Vilagrà, left, seating in front of Spanish counterpart Félix Bolaños in the Catalan government HQ on April 24, 2022 (by Maria Asmarat) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 24, 2022 02:43 PM

The Spanish government will open an "internal investigation" in the state’s intelligence agency (CNI) as well as organize a secrets committee in the Spanish Congress in response to Catalangate. However, the Catalan executive has rejected the proposal, urged resignations, and warned that political support in the Spanish chamber is not granted. 

The Spanish presidency minister, Félix Bolaños, met with Catalan counterpart Laura Vilagrà on Sunday midday in the Catalan government HQ. This has been the first meeting since Catalangate, an alleged espionage case, was reported on Monday by The New Yorker magazine and Citizen Lab research group.

Bolaños proposed for the congressional committee to constitute urgently and be formed by all political forces in the chamber. The CNI’s director, Paz Esteban López, would then address Catalangate and explain the results obtained during the internal investigation. 

So far, several political forces have already called for Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez to clarify Catalangate in Congress. 

The Spanish ministry has suggested declassifying documents in court if needed. The executive will also collaborate with the Spanish Ombudsman to give all required information. The cabinet had already denied any relationship with Catalangate. 

The Ombudsman announced on Sunday it will open an investigation regarding Catalangate, according to sources quoted by the Catalan News Agency (ACN). The idea is to determine if fundamental rights have been violated, especially those related to privacy matters, after using Pegasus spyware on several phones

On the other hand, Laura Vilagrà rejected the Spanish government’s proposals and called for the resignation of those related to the espionage case. She also warned that the political support from Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) in the Spanish chamber is not granted. 

This is one of the different parties in Spain that gave support to the Spanish PM during his presidential bid. ERC has also been a key supporter for the Spanish executive in Congress to pass several laws. 

"This visit does not normalize the relations nor guarantees the parliamentary support. Trust has been broken and right now, we want specific results that we do not have yet," Vilagrà said after meeting with her counterpart. 

The proposals are "insufficient" and the Catalan ministry will, as she announced, not travel to Madrid to take part in the meeting to talk about the 2030 Winter Olympic Games bid. Although, the Catalan government will be represented by the presidency secretary-general, Núria Cuenca. 

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, Catalonia’s government had already frozen all talks with the Spanish cabinet after the case had been reported. 

According to the information published by The New Yorker and Citizen Lab, over 60 Catalan pro-independence activists had been victims of spyware. Among them, all Catalan presidents since 2010, including Pere Aragonès, the current leader of Catalonia while serving as the vice president during Quim Torra’s mandate.

What is Catalangate?

Catalangate is the name that Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto-based research group that reports on high-tech human rights abuses gave its investigation into the espionage of several Catalan pro-independence politicians, activists, and their close associates. 

It is "the largest forensically documented cluster of such attacks and infections on record," the New Yorker published on Monday

Phones were infected using spyware programs Pegasus and Candiru. Pegasus, from Israeli company NSO Group, is known internationally for its previous infections of renowned people, such as murdered Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or members of Rwanda’s opposition party.

Candiru, founded by former NSO Group employees, is not as well known but is similar to Pegasus.