Catalan president spied on by CNI with court authorisation

According to ACN, Paz Esteban provided documents on espionage on a total of 18 Catalan pro-independence supporters

3 min
The director of the National Intelligence Center (CNI), Paz Esteban, arrives accompanied by the Secretary of State for Relations with Parliament, Rafael Simancas, to appear before the control commission

MadridThe current president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, was spied on with court authorisation by the Spanish National Intelligence Centre (CNI), sources in the official secrets committee have told Agència Catalana de Notícies (ACN). Aragonès is part of a group of 18 Catalan independence leaders, among whom there are also people close to former president Carles Puigdemont, whose telephone communications were intercepted with the authorisation of Supreme Court judge attached to the CNI Pablo Lucas. In fact, after the committee session, pro-independence parties and also Unidas Podemos asked that all this information be declassified and made public and have insisted that someone, pointing to the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, should resign over this scandal.

CNI director Paz Esteban, has refused to talk about Pegasus and has not offered any explanation about over 60 Catalan independence leaders spied on using this Israeli software according to CitizenLab. Pro-independence leaders and Unidas Podemos claimed that the information they received during the committee meeting reinforces the need for a public inquiry. "We demand the documents we were shown be declassified," said JxCat spokeswoman Míriam Nogueras. Unidas Podemos has made a formal proposal to the Minister of the Presidency, Felix Bolaños, to this effect. After the meeting, Unidas Podemos, ERC and CUP have repeated their demand for resignations. "Minister Robles's situation is untenable, and it could even affect Home Affairs," said ERC spokesman Gabriel Rufián.

After over three hours, Esteban's explanations did not convince parties that demand a public inquiry. Rufián has insisted that his demands remain the same as before listening to the CNI's explanations, stating the only information he received has already been leaked to the press: the CNI did spy on independence leaders with court authorisation, although he refused to give names. As for the other independence leaders and Spanish cabinet members who were victims of espionage, he gave two hypotheses: either it comes from a foreign country or from an out-of-control state agency. "In both cases it would be terrible," he concluded.

CUP MP Albert Botran denounced that the CNI can spy on the independence movement "in an unlimited way and without guarantees" and that he himself as a victim does not have any state organism which he can turn to. Botran accused the PSOE of being an "accomplice" for covering up the espionage.

PSOE and PP close ranks

PNV spokesman Aitor Esteban hinted there was still a lot more to the case, but refused to give any more details. On the other hand, PSOE closed ranks with the CNI and the Minister of Defence. "They have acted within the legal framework," said its spokesman, Héctor Gómez, who ¡made a "very positive" assessment of the appearance of the director of the secret services and concluded that it helped "clarify the disinformation" that, from his point of view, had been created in relation to the Catalangate. In the same line, the PP was satisfied with the explanations because the surveillance of pro-independence leaders which the CNI admits it carried out was done with court authorisation. In addition, conservative spokeswoman Cuca Gamarra assured intelligence directives prepared by the Spanish government also gave coverage to investigate people linked to the independence movement.

The second leg of the espionage is the one that affects members of the Spanish government, including president Pedro Sánchez and Defence Minister Robles. On this issue, CNI director did not provide information, and that is why Gamarra has asked the government to explain what it knows. This Thursday some media reported Minister of Home Affairs Fernando Grande-Marlaska also had his phone hacked by Pegasus, but sources close to him deny it.

The security breach has caused conflict inside the government, and fingers are being pointed. Bolaños tried to address this on Thursday by sending Robles his "affection, solidarity and support". Yet in recent hours accusations in the media have been made that it was Bolaños, as secretary general of the Presidency in 2021, and not the CNI (which answers to Robles) who was responsible for maintaining the security of the president's communications. "The responsibility is the government's as a whole," Bolaños assured. Esteban, however, is still under fire and the PSOE has closed ranks with her after her appearance. On the right, the PP, Vox and Cs have praised her figure and backed her to remain in office. "Bolaños should apologise to the CNI", Cs spokesperson Edmundo Bal said

Judge offers Sánchez and Robles to appear in court

In parallel, the scandal will also play out in the courts. Spain's High Court investigates, at the request of the State Attorney, the spying on cabinet members. This Thursday, the investigating magistrate, José Luis Calama, offered Sánchez and Robles to appear as injured parties in the case, the day after he decreed the proceedings secret at the request of the Prosecutor's Office. The goal is "to prevent a situation that could seriously compromise the outcome of the investigation," the judge argues in his order.