Politics 25/04/2022

Spanish government announces internal investigation over Catalangate

Catalan Government says the response is "insufficient" and asks for "resignations" of those responsible for espionage

3 min
Minister Vilagrà and Minister Bolaños, this Sunday at the beginning of the meeting at the Generalitat de Catalunya

Barcelona / MadridThe first meeting between the Catalan and Spanish Governments to address Catalangate, a week after the outbreak of the scandal, lasted just over two hours and ended without the results sought by the Generalitat. The Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, met his Catalan counterpart, Laura Vilagrà, and afterwards spoke of a "cordial, sincere and correct" meeting with the idea of "looking for solutions" to the espionage scandal. But Vilagrà disagreed: "The meeting has not gone well. The explanations given are totally insufficient, vague, inconcrete and with uncertain results", she said. Bolaños, who guaranteed the "unequivocal will" of the Spanish government in "working to clarify the facts", has announced an internal investigation of the Intelligence Services would be launched "at the organisation's request" in order to analyse its actions. He also guaranteed the "full disposition" of Spanish intelligence services to "facilitate and collaborate" in an investigation that will also be initiated by the Spanish Ombudsman.

Shortly before the end of the meeting, in fact, Efe agency had reported that the Ombudsman would open an investigation into the spying on the independence movement. The Ombudsman's office "is analysing the information on a possible improper use of spyware Pegasus which could have put at risk the exercise of fundamental rights, in particular those related to the right to privacy", according to insiders quoted by Efe. In a subsequent statement, the Ministry of Defence has expressed its "total satisfaction" with the decision and its conviction that it will demonstrate that the intelligence service acted at all times in accordance with the law. "The Ombudsman will have access to all the information he requires to guarantee maximum transparency and to create trust [...] around the actions of the intelligence services," added the ministry.

Bolaños, who assured the Spanish government has a "clear conscience and nothing to hide", also urged the state parties to constitute the commission of official secrets "immediately". He added that the director of the CNI, Paz Esteban, would appear, and insisted on the "full collaboration" of the Spanish government with the justice system to clarify the facts surrounding Catalangate, even expressing willingness even to "declassify documents". All this, he concluded, with the aim of demonstrating that Spanish institutions always act within the law and "reiterate the willingness to dialogue" with Catalonia. "Always and at all times, especially when there are difficulties such as the current ones," Bolaños said.

"The proposals for action are worrying because they are insufficient. A scandal of this magnitude cannot be solved in a cosmetic way", reacted Vilagrà shortly after, who warned that "if the Spanish government does not move, there will be serious consequences". "We do not want scapegoats, technical audits, we do not want excuses," she insisted, making it clear that the minister's visit to Barcelona "has not normalised relations" between governments nor "guarantees parliamentary support" from the independence movement. Vilagrà, who asked for the first time for "resignations" of those "responsible" for the espionage, said ERC's support for measures to deal with the economic fallout of wat in Ukraine was at stake.

Distant and phone-free meeting

The meeting at the palace started three quarters of an hour late because at 10 am, when it was scheduled to begin, the minister had not yet arrived. Vilagrà was waiting for him with a reception that sought to transmit the Catalan government's distance and discomfort over the scandal. Vilagrà received the minister in her office with a serious gesture and they have each sat at different ends of a long table, unlike what she does with most visitors, with whom she sits on the couch. And another not minor detail: once the photographs were taken, she demanded that cell phones be left outside the room. Bolaños, who had come with the aim of restoring relations between governments, agreed to the request and responded to the staging with a symbolic gesture in favour of the continuity of the dialogue, giving to Vilagrà the book In Defense of Conversation by Sherry Turkle.

In view of the Moncloa's willingness to rebuild trust, president Pere Aragonès already warned this Saturday that "a photo of a meeting" would not be enough to put an end to the Catalangate scandal shortly. In an interview with La Vanguardia, he accused the PSOE ministers of having "allowed, tolerated or not prevented" spying on the independence movement. "The response so far given by the central executive, not only is insufficient, but it is almost insulting to the people spied on," he said.

Pro-independence parties and entities have returned to demand in recent hours that Sánchez himself answer for Catalangate, but for the moment he stays silent. JxCat has been critical of ERC for the fact of having agreed to a "minor" meeting without the Spanish president. Through a statement, JxCat warned this Saturday that "the only announcement" they expected from the meeting was "the opening of an investigation." "Otherwise, and as agreed between the two partners, we maintain relations and bilateral political meetings on hold," they warned. It remains to be seen to what extent this internal investigation contributes to getting them back on track.

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