Former Spanish PM Rajoy purchased spyware for ex-police commissioner Villarejo, new report alleges

ElMó report details of 2018 WhatsApp conversation between high ranking police official and interior ministry

Mariano Rajoy, leaving the Spanish congress (by ACN)
Mariano Rajoy, leaving the Spanish congress (by ACN) / ACN
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

March 23, 2023 10:18 AM

March 23, 2023 11:01 AM

Former Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is alleged to have bought the device that former Spanish police official José Manuel Villarejo used to spy and record conversations, according to a new report from ElMó that the Catalan News Agency has had access to. 

The revelation has emerged from a WhatsApp conversation in 2018 between the former deputy director of the Spanish police, Eugenio Pino, and the then-number two of the interior ministry, Francisco Martínez. 

Mariano Rajoy, of the conservative People's Party, was the leader of the Spanish executive during the peak of the Catalan independence push. Villarejo is a former commissioner of the Spanish National Police who in recent years has leaked parts of the inner workings of the state system to the media, including details that Spain used "absolutely illegal" actions to quell the rise of the independence movement over the past decade.

ElMó points out that the ex-police commissioner had software similar to that of Pegasus to intercept communications, and that he obtained it from Spain's intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Center (CNI). 

The WhatsApp conversation has come to light as part of the court case known as the 'Tandem case,' which sees Villarejo accused of the crimes of extortion, revelation of secrets, and forgery.

Among the messages, one stands out in which "pppk" is used, the code name used to refer to Villarejo. "We'll have to ask, when the time is right, why they bought a machine for pppk to spy... and they didn't get it back", Pino says in a message. 

Francisco Martínez responds by asking: "Who bought it?"; and Pino confirms: “M R and Federico." According to the police report that collects the messages, M R is Mariano Rajoy and Federico refers to the former defense minister, Federico Trillo. also explain that this device was highly regarded in the intelligence agency and that in another chat, Pino said that the head of the secret services, Marcelino Martín-Blas, tried to get it many times. 

In another order of things, the digital newspaper has stated that Villarejo also had access to the systems of the Spanish police to intercept conversations and tap mobile phones, thanks to his friendship with the commissioner Enrique García Castaño.

Pegasus spyware controversy

Another spyware, Pegasus, developed by the company NSO Group, has been found to be used by Spain against leading figures from Catalonia's independence movement. 

In April 2022, Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto-based research group that reports on high-tech human rights abuses, and the New Yorker Magazine published a report on how "democracies spy on their citizens," with a focus on Spanish authorities hacking the devices of Catalan pro-independence politicians.

In March 2023, an EU Parliament committee investigating the use of spyware traveled to Madrid for a fact-finding mission, after which it questioned Spain's acknowledgment of "only 18 of 65 espionage cases."

"It is disappointing that we didn't get to meet more members of the [Spanish] government," committee chair Jeroen Lenaers said, after Catalan politicians had criticized that Spain were attempting to "boycott" and "block" the mission. 

"All governments have stonewalled the investigation," Sophie In 'T Veld, another representative of the EU mission, added, explaining that while they have met with government representatives including Pascual Navarro, the state secretary for European affairs, "they have never gotten any meaningful information."