Kremlin denies alleged links with people close to Puigdemont: "It's nothing more than a lie"

Russian government spokesman rules out "categorically" a possible involvement of Moscow "in the events in Catalonia"

3 min
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in a file image

BarcelonaFaced with the long report by The New York Times on alleged links between Russia and Jose Maria Alay, former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont's head of cabinet, and his lawyer Gonzalo Boye, the Kremlin has denied this Tuesday all alleged contacts with those close to Puigdemont. And not only with the former president, but the Russian government has denied any links to the independence movement. "It is nothing more than a lie," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in statements to the media reported by Sputnik news agency.

The source of the American newspaper's information are "European intelligence" reports and investigations by the Spanish Guardia Civil in the case which is being investigated by Barcelona court of instruction number 1, under Joaquín Aguirre. This case, known as the Volhov operation, led to 21 arrests in October last year, including Alay. The new information details that Alay travelled to Moscow in 2019 and met with former Russian intelligence officers, a grandson of a KGB spy and several Kremlin officials. Alay does, in fact, confirm the meetings, but both in The New York Times and in interviews after the story was published, he frames them as normal contact with people abroad.

The Kremlin has not confirmed any of the meetings and has assured that it has "no record of these contacts." "We do not know how reliable these publications are," said the Russian government spokesman. Be that as it may, the executive led by Vladimir Putin has also denied "categorically" Moscow's possible involvement "in the events in Catalonia". Specifically, The New York Times claims that Alay met officials involved in the Kremlin's "hybrid war" against Europe, which consists om political moves and a propaganda strategy to destabilise the European Union.

It is not the first time that the Kremlin has denied that it had a role in the Catalan process, although on Tuesday it did not respond with irony. When the Volhov operation revealed 10,000 Russian soldiers were allegedly prepared to go to Catalonia to defend independence, the Russian government responded with sarcasm: "The information that appeared in the Spanish media about the arrival of 10,000 Russian soldiers in Catalonia is incomplete. Two more zeros need to be added," the official Twitter account of the Russian embassy in Spain posted. "The troops would have to be transported by the Mosca and Chato planes, docked in Catalonia during the Civil War and hidden in a safe place until receiving the coded order to act," continued the statement without leaving aside the irony.

At first, however, the Russian plot to which the Kremlin responded with satire did not point to Alay. Then this part of the investigation of the Volhov operation was focused on Victor Terradellas, former head of international CDC, and the businessman Oriol Soler for having met in London with Julian Assange. It is after the analysis of Alay's mobile phone that the Guardia Civil also links him to the Russian plot.

This Tuesday, the Twitter account of the Russian embassy in Spain has not been silent about the information that appeared in The New York Times and has shared the statements of the Kremlin spokesman which related to "the fake news about Catalonia".

Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí ask the European Commission about the intelligence report

The New York Times cites as one of its sources of information a "European intelligence report", and this Tuesday MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí have asked the European Commission what it knows about this report. Specifically, they claim that the only European intelligence agency is EU INTCEN, which according to the Catalan parliamentarians provides reports to the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell. Thus, the MEPs ask if EU INTCEN is the author of the report and who has given the agency the order to start the investigation. They also ask the European Commission how an intelligence report could have ended up in the hands of journalists.

The Government has also had to respond this Tuesday on the controversy and, as last Saturday, has tried to disassociate itself from any of Alay's activitie. "The government had no official knowledge of these meetings," said Patricia Plaja. On whether the trips were paid with public funds, he insisted that the executive did not have "anything to say" on the subject and that, in any case, the "transparency portal" of the Generalitat collects the expenses of the offices of the former presidents. Alay was Puigdemont's head of cabinet.

Boye believes there could be a crime of disclosure of secrets

In addition, Alay's defence, led by Gonzalo Boye, sent tow inquiries to the judge in charge of the Volhov operation, Joaquín Aguirre, regarding the information in the North American newspaper. According to Vilaweb and confirmed by ARA, in these writings the lawyer asks the judge to clarify whether there has been a disclosure of secrets regarding the information on Russia. Therefore, Boye asks to act "until the last consequences against whoever is responsible for the commission of this crime". In a second appeal, Alay's defense also asks the judge to provide the names of the members of the court and the agents of the Civil Guard who had access to the separate part of the case that dealt with the information on Alay's phone.