Renewed calls for accountability after revelations on origin of 'Operation Catalonia' smear campaign
Congress restarts investigatory committee on covert state actions against independence movement
The so-called 'Operation Catalonia' – the alleged covert smear campaign against members of the Catalan independence movement devised by Spanish National Police officers and the interior ministry of the conservative Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy – has made headlines once again this week following revelations on its origin: 2012, only days after the September 11 National Day protest saw 1.5 million people take to the streets of Barcelona, according to an extensive report published in 'Crónica Libre' and 'La Vanguardia' on Tuesday.
According to this joint journalistic investigation, the then-Spanish interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz saw the mass demonstration as an "indicator of the severity of the situation in Catalonia," setting off a chain of events leading to a purported extra-judiciary investigation into members of the pro-independence and attempts to discredit them with faulty information.
Spain's Congress bureau voted in favor of reactivating its investigatory committee into 'Operation Catalonia' the very day the 'Crónica Libre' and 'La Vanguardia' article was published, with Catalan pro-independence parties backing the motion alongside Basque and Galician parties as well as the Socialists and Podemos and Rajoy's People's Party and far-right Vox rejecting it.
Although this had initially been approved last September, parties had made no progress in this regard since then, and will now have until March 21 to designate their committee representatives.
The Catalan government welcomed this decision, but expressed some skepticism as to whether those responsible for the campaign would truly be brought to justice, with spokesperson Patrícia Plaja explaining that Barcelona would only take action when if it deemed it "necessary, useful, and practical" to do so.
And while the current interior minister, the Socialists' Fernando Grande-Marlaska, said he thought it was "perfect" that the committee was being relaunched, he refrained from commenting on the matter later on in the Senate when a Junts per Catalunya politician brought it up, and instead insisted that Spain was a "full democracy."
Marlaska's fellow party mate, Spanish government spokesperson Isabel Rodríguez, however, has been more direct about the gravity of the allegations against People's Party officials and police officers, and stressed that the public prosecutor has already requested a 15-year sentence for the former interior minister for a separate corruption case.
The People's Party, meanwhile, continues to deny the existence of 'Operation Catalonia', describing it as "fiction to fuel the conspiracy theory of a state campaign against the pro-independence movement."
Madrid court investigation
The revelations on the origin of the smear campaign come a week after the news broke that a court in the Spanish capital had accepted considering a complaint filed by former FC Barcelona president Sandro Rosell against several former Spanish police officers for the 'Catalonia Operation'.
This is the first time that the Spanish judiciary has opted to investigate the alleged operation of Spanish politicians, civil servants, police officers, members of the judiciary, and the media against the Catalan independence movement.
According to the documentation the Catalan News Agency has had access to, the 13th District Court of Madrid accepted the complaint in October and asked the prosecution if it saw any inconvenience in investigating the case. In January, the public body gave its approval and has now asked the National Police for the details of the defendants to summon them.
The complaint is directed against the former commissioner of the National Police, José Manuel Villarejo, the former inspector and partner of Villarejo, Antonio Jiménez Raso, another inspector Alberto Estévez, and an ex-agent of the FBI assigned to the American embassy in Madrid, Marc Varri.
Former PM under investigation in Andorra
Last June, the neighboring country of Andorra announced an inquiry into Rajoy and two of his former ministers, Jorge Fernández Díaz and Cristóbal Montoro.
They are accused of pressuring bank officials in 2014 into providing them with account details of former Catalan president Jordi Pujol and his family and then-president Artur Mas as well as then-vice president Oriol Junqueras.