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Ex Spanish police official claims ‘absolutely illegal’ actions were taken to quell independence movement

José Manuel Villarejo says he would “do it again” because they pursued “higher good” of Spanish unity


22 May 2022 12:33 PM


ACN | Barcelona

José Manuel Villarejo, the former commissioner of the Spanish National Police, has admitted that Spain undertook “actions” that were “absolutely illegal” to quell the rise of the independence movement in the past decade, but at the same time defended these actions because they pursued a “higher good” – maintaining the unity of Spain.

Leaked conversations published by Spanish newspaper El País this week between Villarejo and Francisco Martínez, an official in Spain’s interior ministry at the time, suggesting that Spain plotted fake news reports to discredit the independence movement just before an election in Catalonia. 

The front page headline of Spanish daily El Mundo on November 16, 2012, just nine days before the Catalan election, read "Spanish police link Pujol and Mas’ bank accounts in Switzerland with CiU corruption." 

The story referred to Jordi Pujol, who had been the Catalan president for 23 years, and his CiU coalition heir and president in 2012, Artur Mas, who had pledged to hold an independence vote if he managed to get an absolute majority, as some polls forecasted.

After El Mundo's article, his party began to drop in polls and ended up losing 12 seats – and not winning at least 6 with which we would have taken full control of parliament – forcing it to negotiate with other political forces to stay in power.

Villarejo, in an interview with Catalan public broadcaster TV3, on Saturday night, acknowledged that Spain’s methods of containing the independence movement was “illegal” but that they would “do it again,” adding that Spain’s then-Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy “congratulated” him after the party led by Artur Mas lost 12 seats, which to Rajoy meant that Operation Catalonia had "succeeded," according to the former high ranking police official. 

The former police official admitted that in order to discredit politicians who wanted to set up an independent Catalonia, "evidence was altered." 

“We did what we had to do,” he summed up, admitting also that he was “one of the coordinators” of Operation Catalonia, but explaining that he did not organize it. 

He claimed this operation was set up by the Spanish government, led at the time by the conservative People’s Party under Rajoy, and that both the minister of the interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz, and Rajoy himself were "fully informed" of it. He added that the minister "informed the vice president", Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.

50 phone calls hacked

During Operation Catalonia, Villarejo said that about fifty telephone calls between the main leaders of the independence movement were intercepted and that he did not believe it was done with the judicial endorsement. 

"In May I saw an order," Villarejo said, "to dismantle the independence push, which was attacking the unity of Spain, and I do not regret it," he added.

Much more recently, it was revealed that in a separate operation, the devices of over 65 figures linked with the independence movement were hacked using the Israeli spyware Pegasus. 

The hackings were made between 2017 and 2020, and were revealed by an investigation by The New Yorker magazine and the Citizen Lab research group. The scandal has since become known as Catalangate.

After the revelations were made public, Spanish government officials announced that the devices of PM Pedro Sánchez, defence minister Margarita Robles, and the interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska were also hacked. They affirmed that the interceptions were “external” and “illicit,” blaming an unknown party outside of Spain for the hackings, while the Catalan government believes Madrid is responsible. 


  • Spain's former high-ranking police official, José Manuel Villarejo, outside Spain's National Court, on March 4, 2021 (by Andrea Zamorano)

  • Spain's former high-ranking police official, José Manuel Villarejo, outside Spain's National Court, on March 4, 2021 (by Andrea Zamorano)