'The New York Times' delves into alleged links between Puigdemont's entourage and Russia

The former president puts the Guardia Civil behind the information and attributes it to the desire to "discredit" Catalan independence movement

4 min
The historian Josep Lluís Alay (middle) arriving to testify at the Audiencia Nacional accompanied by the lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas (right).

BarcelonaThe New York Times published on Friday an extensive report on alleged links between the head of the office of former president Carles Puigdemont, Josep Maria Alay, and the former president's lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, and Russia. It explains a series of trips to Russia in 2019 and 2020 and a series of meetings with people linked to the Kremlin and the Russian secret services. This information, which also echoes El Periódico, is the result of a long investigation and draws on "European intelligence" reports and investigations by the Guardia Civil in the case that is in the court of instruction number 1 of Barcelona, led by Joaquín Aguirre, for which 21 people were arrested in October last year, including Alay.

The US newspaper says that as part of seeking international support, after the European Union and the United States closed ranks with Spain, Alay travelled to Moscow in 2019 and met with Russian officials, former intelligence officers and a grandson of a KGB spy. The aim, according to the article, was to secure Russian aid to Catalonia. Asked by The New York Times, Alay confirmed the trips, but framed them as normal contact with people abroad and dismissed his links with the secret services as a "fantasy story created by Madrid". 

In a statement, the former president's office claims that the "leaks that have appeared are decontextualised from reality" and that the information that has appeared is full of "falsehoods, inconsistencies and intoxications". According to Puigdemont, the source of the article - despite the fact that the newspaper cites intelligence reports - is the investigation by the Guardia Civil, which wants to "discredit" the Catalan independence movement and present it to Europe as a "destabilising element".

He also denounces the revelation of private conversations that have nothing to do with "a crime" - "it is an instrument of dirty war that the state practices against Catalonia", he says - and that the international activities of the former president's office are legal and with the aim of "contributing to the democratic resolution of the political conflict". He reserves legal action against the state and "other states if necessary" for disclosure of secrets, as they consider that the information has reached the media from the case under the secrecy of summary that Aguirre is investigating. 

Alay's meetings

"Whether he knew it or not, Alay", says The New York Times, met with officials involved in the Kremlin's "hybrid war" against Europe, which consists - the newspaper continues - of a strategy of propaganda and disinformation, as well as financing political movements, to destabilise the European Union. In this sense, it notes that, after Alay's trips to Moscow in 2019, the Tsunami Democràtic emerged as a result of the protest against the Catalan independence bid ruling, although it does not establish any clearer link between the two events. Alay, however, has always denied any link with this movement.

The alleged plot is a matter that has been investigated in the National High Court, in the framework of a secret case that has recently been closed, and also in Barcelona in part of the Volhov case. The examining magistrate Joaquín Aguirre, who seized the devices of all the detainees, including Alay, maintains that the head of the office of former president Puigdemont is linked to Russia. At first, the magistrate pointed to links with Moscow of other people related to the Catalan independence bid such as Víctor Tarradelles, former international head of CDC, or the businessman Oriol Soler for having met in London with Julian Assange -who is considered to be part of the Russian strategy to destabilise the Kremlin-. It is after the analysis of Alay's mobile phone that the Guardia Civil also linked him to the Russian plot. 

The New York Times reports an alleged meeting documented in a 'June 2020 intelligence report' in which Alay meets with Russian businessman Alexander Dmitrenko, a resident of Catalonia, to ask for 'technical and financial help in setting up separate banking, telecommunications and energy sectors in Spain'. He adds that they, along with Boye, also reportedly consulted a character "linked to Russian crime" to establish a "secret pipeline to finance their activities". 

The American newspaper also reproduces a statement by Alay in which he says that he works for "the Americans", alluding to the series about the Russian couple who settled in the United States and were spies for the Kremlin. Alay was the translator of El secret de la clandestina (Símbol Editors), the biographical book about the Russian spy Elena Vavilova, which inspired the audiovisual production inspired by a true story. At the same time, it collects messages from him and Boye in which they are concerned about keeping "their Russian contacts" "happy". In conversation with Puigdemont, Boye said that public pronouncements that would anger Moscow had to be avoided, in particular in relation to the democratic protests that Russia was helping to disperse against the authoritarian government in Belarus. Yet the former president did not follow the advice, appearing in Brussels in support of the Belarusian opposition and tweeting in support of the protests. 

In an interview with ARA, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Victòria Alsina, assured that Alay "does not represent the government of Catalonia" or the interests of the pro-independence movement, and asserted that the Generalitat has always stood by human rights and democracy. In this regard, Puigdemont's support for the pro-democracy protests in Belarus stands out. Former president Quim Torra tweeted in support of Alay: "Subject of unlimited persecution, I can only thank Josep Alay for his total commitment to the freedom of Catalonia. Always by your side, my friend".

On the other hand, the leader of Ciudadanos, Inés Arrimadas, and the president of the parliamentary group in Catalonia, Carlos Carrizosa, have announced that they will seek support to open a commission of enquiry in Parliament on the issue.