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Spain’s right rattled by suspected spying case

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Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said he hopes the courts will 'shed light' on the case. — Reuters pic
Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said he hopes the courts will ‘shed light’ on the case. — Reuters pic

MADRID, Sept 15 — Spain’s conservative opposition party is engulfed in a scandal involving allegations an informant was paid out of state coffers to spy on a party bigwig in a case that could taint a former prime minister.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said he hopes the courts will “shed light” on the case which is “very worrying” and “belongs to a dark age” for Spain.

The affair has dominated headlines in Spain since public prosecutors last week declassified a 52-page document about the investigation into the case, dubbed “Operation Kitchen” because the code name of the alleged informant was “the cook”.

The informant worked as a driver for the former treasurer of the Popular Party (PP), Luis Barcenas, who in May 2018 was sentenced to 33 years in jail for his role in a kickbacks scheme which financed the party known as the Gurtel case. 

The ruling led to the ouster of PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy in a confidence vote in parliament several days later.

Public prosecutors allege the driver received €2,000 euros (RM9,832) per month, as well as the promise of a job in the police force, in exchange for obtaining information regarding where “Barcenas and his wife hide compromising documents” about the PP and its senior leaders, according to a copy of the report seen by AFP.

The probe into “Operation Kitchen” is one of several which have been opened based on searches carried out following the arrest of Jose Manuel Villarejo, a former police commissioner who for years secretly recorded conversations with top political and economic figures to be able to smear them.

‘Miserable people’

Prosecutors are looking into “numerous and conclusive” evidence of former interior minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz’s role in the affair, as well as that of former defence minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal who is “affected by suspected compromising documents”.

Fernandez Diaz has said he knew nothing about the alleged spying while Dolores de Cospedal has so far remained silent.

Both were ministers under Rajoy, who is also mentioned in the prosecutor’s report. A transcript of a conversation between Villarejo and Barcena’s driver included in the report suggests the former PP treasurer had compromising documents regarding the ex-premier.

Investigating magistrates have the cooperation of former secretary of state for security Francisco Martinez Vazquez who has been indicted as part of the investigation into “Operation Kitchen”.

During an interview published Sunday in top-selling daily newspaper El Pais, he said he wants to “tell the judge everything” he knows about “Operation Kitchen”.

Prosecutors say Vazquez has already provided investigators with messages he exchanged with his former boss Fernandez Diaz which show that the former interior minister was aware of the operation.

“My biggest mistake at the ministry was to be loyal to miserable people like Jorge (Fernandez Diaz), Rajoy or Cospedal,” he said in a message he sent which was included in the prosector’s report.

Taking distance 

The scandal comes at a bad time for the PP, which was defeated by the left in the last two general elections and is facing stiff competition from the rise of far-right party Vox.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist party and its smaller coalition partners have requested a parliamentary investigation into “Operation Kitchen”.

The affair “distracts attention at a time when the PP wanted to unite the right and focus its criticism on the government’s handling of the pandemic and the economy,” said Antonio Barroso, an analyst at political consultancy Teneo.

PP leader Pablo Casado, 39, who took over from Rajoy, has sought to distance himself from the scandal.

“I am not here to protect fellow party members,” he said Monday during an interview with conservative radio Cope.

“Whoever has to fall will fall,” he added.

Casado stressed last week when the scandal broke that when the alleged spying on Barcenas took place he held no position of responsibility within the PP. — AFP               

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