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Court probes involvement of ex-police chief in plot to discredit Podemos

In 2016, the PP-run Interior Ministry granted legal residency status to a Venezuelan national who provided unverified information about the left-wing party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, leaving court on Wednesday.
Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, leaving court on Wednesday.

In April 2016, with the Popular Party (PP) in power, high-ranking officials at the Spanish Interior Ministry granted an extraordinary residency permit to a Venezuelan national who had been cooperating as a police informer in a political dirty war against the left-wing Podemos party.

This warfare is attributed to the so-called “Patriotic Brigade,” a group of officers who allegedly engaged in irregular activities during Mariano Rajoy’s first term in office in an attempt to damage the reputation of the PP’s political rivals.

The Patriotic Brigade was allegedly created within the National Police under then-Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz

The Patriotic Brigade was allegedly created within the National Police under then-Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz. The best-known member of this group is José Manuel Villarejo, a retired police chief who ran a private espionage service for 20 years, and who was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention in November 2017 as the alleged ringleader of a corrupt police network.

Judge Manuel García-Castellón of Spain’s High Court (Audiencia Nacional) is now investigating whether this group is behind an apparent dirty war against Podemos.

In April 2017, his colleague, Judge José de la Mata, took the first step toward uncovering the group’s activities in connection with an unlawful attempt to incorporate damning documents into a judicial investigation into the finances of former Catalan leader Jordi Pujol and his family.

Now, the Patriotic Brigade is also under scrutiny for allegedly spying on Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias. Villarejo, the former police chief, told the judge that his spying activities against the Podemos leader were part of “a police investigation.”

According to Villarejo, the police took from his possession a pen drive containing data retrieved from a cellphone that belonged to an aide of Iglesias. This aide reported the theft of the phone in 2016. Part of the personal information contained on it, including messages exchanged in an internal party chat group, were later published by the online daily OKDiario.

Residency permit

A document that has been attested to by a notary, verified by police sources, and accepted as valid by two Madrid courts, shows how the Interior Ministry granted an individual named Carlos Alberto Arias a one-year residency permit due to “exceptional circumstances” involving “cooperation with police authorities.”

The document was signed by the state secretary for security at the time, Francisco Martínez, who has told EL PAÍS that he does not remember Arias’ name. “I imagine that, just like so many other times, I was given the papers, and if it is proposed by the police, I sign off on it,” he said.

Ex-state secretary for security Francisco Martínez.
Ex-state secretary for security Francisco Martínez.

Although the permit did not specify the nature of this cooperation, Arias himself has declared before a notary that he had been working as an “informer” for the Spanish police since February 2016, contributing “all kinds of documents” about the funds that the government of Venezuela had allegedly given to Podemos and its leader, Iglesias.

This money was allegedly channeled through an account at Euro Pacific Bank in the Grenadines, a tax haven. This information has not been verified.

“This entire collaboration was authorized and requested by the Interior Ministry of the government of Spain,” added Arias, who introduced himself as the source who gave the police several unverified reports about irregular payments to Podemos, allegedly drafted by the Cuban secret services and by the government of Venezuela. The contents of these reports were published by Ok Diario in May 2016.

At that time, Podemos was doing well in the polls, and stood to play a decisive role in the formation of a government following the December 2015 elections, when two protest parties – Podemos and Ciudadanos – shattered Spain’s two-party system. Politicians struggled for months to reach governing deals, and failure to do so resulted in a new general election in June 2016, which was won by the PP, albeit without a majority.

Iglesias’ account

In January 2016, OkDiario also published news about the so-called Pisa report, a fake police document with ties to the Patriotic Brigade that asserted that the government of Iran had backed Iglesias financially in order to launch his political career. This report is currently under investigation at the High Court as part of the wider probe into the affairs of the ex-police chief Villarejo.

Iglesias himself has always denied the accusations of international funding, and initiated legal proceedings against OKDiario. A Madrid appeals court and the regional High Court have not attempted to determine whether the published information is accurate or not.

“This is a criminal network involving corrupt police officers, media organizations and leading business people,” said Iglesias on Wednesday, after testifying in court.

English version by Susana Urra.

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