Belgium's secret service froze relations with Spain in 2018 over Puigdemont tracking scandal
Belgian intelligence warned Spanish counterparts that operating in the country without authorization could "seriously damage" relationship
There was a two-week freeze in relations between the Belgian and Spanish intelligence services in April 2018, on account of the scandal involving tracking devices placed in the cars of former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont.
That is according to a report from the committee in the Belgian parliament charged with overseeing the activities of the country's secret services, which the Catalan News Agency (ACN) learned about from sources close to the report.
ACN reported yesterday that devices were placed in two cars used by the former president while he was in meetings in a Brussels hotel, and that before the devices were discovered on February 7 and 8, Puigdemont's movements were tracked from a distance.
A Belgian police investigation, which the Catalan News Agency (ACN) learnt about from sources in that country, also revealed that a prosecutor in Spain's National Court may have been linked in an espionage plot.
In a meeting on March 28, a month and a half after the trackers were discovered, Belgian secret services warned their Spanish counterparts that carrying out unauthorized operations in Belgium could "seriously damage" their relations.
In mid-April relations between the agencies were frozen and did not return to normal until the end of the month, during an international meeting. The sources close to the report say that Spain has never admitted to Belgium that it was responsible for placing the devices.
Belgian secret service taken by surprise
The sources also told ACN that the alleged spying of Puigdemont's movements caught the Belgian secret services by surprise, as until then the two agencies had worked perfectly well together without any problems.
In October 2017, for example, Spain asked the Belgian secret service for information on Puigdemont's whereabouts, which it supplied. It also supplied the Guardia Civil police with information about the movements of the former president in January of the same year.
This is why the alleged operation involving the trackers placed while the politician was in Brussels' Hotel President caused consternation within the Belgian secret service which, after Puigdemont had reported the incident, met with Belgian state and local prosecutors to discuss the matter, the sources say.
Following those meetings, and others with Spanish representatives in mid-March, and a few days after Puigdemont was detained in Germany, the head of international relations in the Belgian secret service warned Spain about operating unofficially in Belgium.
"An exception to excellent bilateral relations"
In mid-April, the Belgian embassy in Madrid sent an email message to its state authorities informing them that, to Spain, Puigdemont's presence in Belgium was "an exception to otherwise excellent bilateral relations," and was creating an uncomfortable situation.
As a result of this email, the Belgian secret service temporarily froze relations with its Spanish counterpart, and soon after expressed its dissatisfaction in an international meeting of intelligence agencies, which included the presence of the Spanish secret service.
Yet, the Spanish secret service continued to deny it was responsible for the operation against Puigdemont, say the sources close to the report. Then in another international meeting in Brussels on April 26 and 27 relations between the two agencies were resumed.
Although the investigation carried out by the Belgian authorities suggests that it was the Spanish secret service that carried out the operation, the sources also say that it may have been unofficial in nature.