Judge releases Villarejo almost three and a half years later

The Prosecutor's Office had requested it before the maximum term of four years of provisional imprisonment runs out in November

3 min
L'excomissari José Manuel Villarejo declaring in a trial a few weeks ago.

MadridSpain's National Court judge Manuel García Castellón has agreed to free ex superintendent José Manuel Villarejo on bail, who had been in pre-trial detention since November 2017. The magistrate's decision comes after the Prosecutor's Office requested it on Wednesday, following the refusal of the National Court to advance the first trial that the investigated is scheduled to face in December this year. The public ministry had requested it with the aim that an eventual conviction would allow to keep Villarejo in prison, but considers that the expiration of the maximum term of provisional imprisonment on November 3, before the first trial, means the measure would not have legal support. If the reason to keep in prison is to make sur he will appear in court, it makes no sense as he will have to be freed before the hearing anyway.

García Castellón followed this reasoning and agreed to his freedom, but imposed precautionary measures: Villarejo will have to appear daily before the closest court to his home, his passport was withheld and he is not allowed to obtain a new one, he is not allowed to leave the country and is obliged to inform the Court of Instruction number 6 of the National Court of any change of residence. In his letter, the magistrate warns that he could revoke his decision if the measures are not complied with.

Among the arguments to establish these conditions, the judge argues that the risk of flight still persists for several reasons: that his family was also part of the alleged criminal organisation - his wife and son are also being prosecuted in some of the cases, the amount of false passports and cash he held, his proven ease to travel through several countries, his assets and network of contacts abroad and the lack of roots in Spain after retiring as National Police superintendent.

It also points out that there is a "certain and high risk" of criminal reiteration, to the point that in a October 23, 2020 search of Villarejo's home and his cell in Estremera established that he "continued to control a huge amount of documentations from prison with the dual purpose of profit and blackmailing both individuals and State institutions through the programmed dissemination of this sensitive information, to obtain impunity or, at least in the short term, his freedom". "Documents classified as secret were intercepted, some of which had already been disclosed to unauthorised third parties".

The National Court had decreed a few weeks ago the provisional freedom of Villarejo over some of the accusations of the Tandem case - parts 2, 3 and 6, baptised as Pintor, Iron and Land - and that will be judged cumulatively in December. The ex superintendent did not leave because the precautionary measure remained in force for other cases that are in the instruction phase. The Prosecutor's Office filed an appeal opposing this concession, but this Tuesday the fourth section of the National Court was ratified in the decision and even criticised the prosecution for trying to set the court's calendar.

The judge believes that, all in all, it will be impossible to hear the case before Villarejo's four years in pre-trial detention are up. Furthermore, he points out that Villarejo's civil liabilities have been secured, a fact that decreases the concealment of assets, he says. In addition, he stresses that the maintenance of provisional imprisonment directly affects Villarejo's right to freedom, and concludes that "when the precautionary measure is no longer materially suitable to ensure the subjection of the investigated to the procedure, it could become an anticipated penalty and compromise the presumption of innocence".

Acquitted of slander against the ex-director of the Intelligence Services

This manoeuvre to free Villarejo against the Prosecutor's Office and the judge's criteria would have been prevented if the ex superintendent had been convicted in the first trial to which he was subjected in January. He was accused of reporting a false crime and slander against the former director of the Spanish Intelligence Services, Félix Sanz Roldán, for having said that the latter issued death threats against Juan Carlos I's ex lover Corinna Larsen, but the court acquitted him. A conviction would have allowed to keep Villarejo in prison.