Cops versus cops on the cocaine trail
National Police enters Catalan Mossos' HQ in search of recorded conversations
A complex case of police corruption resulted in an unusual image this past Monday: officers from the National Police storming the headquarters of the Mossos d'Esquadra, the regional Catalan force. It was a move filled with symbolism that is sure to stoke up old resentments between both law enforcement agencies.
The judge investigating the case ordered the raid in order to obtain a copy of the content of phone taps that he suspects the Mossos held back from him in order to protect a drug trafficker. The Egara complex in Sabadell houses the Mossos' investigation and information units.
The Catalan commissioner of internal affairs, Felip Puig of the nationalist CiU bloc, called it a "shocking" development, although he also expressed "trust" in the agents and "respect" for the judge, Joaquín Aguirre, who has indicted the Mossos' anticorruption deputy inspector, Antoni Salleras, and five subordinates for covering up the central role played by an alleged narc, Manuel Gutiérrez Carbajo, in the so-called Macedonia case.
In this complex case, there are a number of ingredients at play. Gutiérrez Carbajo is a police informer, but not just any police informer. His help has been key in cracking open two other cases of police corruption. One of them, which is pending a final ruling, involves the theft of a container with 400 kilos of cocaine from Barcelona port. The attorney's office has demanded long prison sentences for several civil guards and a police chief inspector for their roles in the case.
The second case, which is still pending trial, affects the Mossos. The attorney wants up to 44 years of jail time for police chiefs who accepted money and gifts in exchange for overlooking prostitution in the town of Castelldefels' giant brothels. Among these is the commissioner Luis Gómez. Carbajo's testimony to the attorney helped break up this scheme as well.
The Mossos' anticorruption unit, led by Salleras, directed the brothel operation, and Salleras also participated in the beginning of the Macedonia case, which began three years ago with the investigation of a suspicious sale of cocaine. But later Salleras was himself indicted by the judge for allegedly concealing conversations of interest about Carbajo and other officers.
A few weeks ago, the Mossos gave the judge a copy of the original master recording with all the conversations that were overheard during the investigation. An expert brought in by Manos Limpias, an obscure rightwing union that is a private plaintiff in the case, compared documents from the original source with the recordings handed in by the Mossos and concluded that the regional police had deliberately obliterated over 700 conversations of relevance to the case.
When they examined the nearly 30 DVDs sent to the courthouse, the lawyers from Manos Limpias realized that one of them was broken and that another one was badly scratched, rendering them useless. The expert said so in court, and noted that besides the 700 odd missing conversations, there were an additional 1,490 text messages and 711 transcriptions missing.
The private plaintiff concluded that this was not an oversight but a deliberate "manipulation" to ensure that a few people involved in the case would not be identified. The expert cites examples like the calls from an individual using the codename Tarek, whose conversations were neither transcribed nor noted as relevant to the investigation. Yet an analysis of these calls shows that Tarek was the drug provider for one of the defendants in the case, David Donoso.
In order to check the veracity of these conclusions, and at the attorney's request, the judge agreed to commission a second report on the same issue from the National Police, who later expressed surprise at the scratches on the DVD, which seemed "made on purpose," according to sources familiar with the investigation. The judge underscores that the DVDs contain "errors caused by deep scratches which are perfectly visible," leading to the need to obtain a clean copy, justifying the need to send in the police to "obtain a complete copy of the audiovisual content." That copy was made on a hard drive to prevent scratching.
Aguirre himself spent five hours inside the Mossos building to supervise the operation. The presence of another police body in their midst bothered the Mossos, who described the measure as "unnecessary." In a report sent to the courthouse a few days ago, the Mossos admitted that two of their DVDs were defective, but only sent one in as a replacement, arguing that the other one could not be copied.
Hard times for a server
The judge had been hoping to make a copy of the conversations directly from the server at Mossos d'Esquadra headquarters, but he was informed by the latter that they do not own a server large enough for storing all this material. It was a surprising revelation, given that both the National Police and the Civil Guard have dedicated servers with virtually unlimited capacity based in El Escorial.
But regional police agencies, such as the Basque Ertzaintza or the Catalan Mossos, use a limited capacity system. Tapped conversations are recorded on a floating hard drive that regularly frees us space by copying the information onto DVDs. Those copies are made automatically, with no possibility of manually editing or manipulating the discs. The system does not allow the deletion of content on the hard drive, either. "Only the software programmer could do that," said police sources. Once the unedited copy is made (the "master DVD"), it is stored inside a safebox with all due legal safeguards, said the same sources. The conversations in the Macedonia case take up 27 DVDs, which were copied one by one last Monday by National Police agents.