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The on-going case of José Manuel Villarejo, a former Spanish police inspector involved in major espionage activities over many years, is now lifting the lid on new details of the so-called Operation Catalonia, the illicit police operation aimed at spying on and discrediting pro-independence leaders of Catalonia, under Mariano Rajoy's Partido Popular government. Specifically, a new leaked tape recording, one of many made by the former police inspector, alleges that former Spanish defence minister and ex-secretary-general of the PP, María Dolores de Cospedal, was a prime mover of the dirty ops against the independence movement.

Conversations between the now-imprisoned Villarejo and his then-partner Adrián de la Joya, in a tape published by the newspaper La Vanguardia, allege that Cospedal and the former leader of the Catalan PP, Alicia Sánchez Camacho, were behind the illegal police operation, which was made even more complex because of rivalries between two different sectors of Spain's then-governing party, with the other wing headed by ex-deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. According to the claims made by Villarejo in the audios to which La Vanguardia had access, Sáenz de Santamaría complained to Cospedal that Operation Catalonia was worsening the situation, since the attacks on independence leaders were causing them to react more strongly. "On the contrary, thanks to Operation Catalonia, the issue has not got out of control yet," says Villarejo in the recording.

Sánchez Camacho and Sáenz de Santamaría

According to the conversation, which took place on February 14th, 2017, Sánchez Camacho was working in the same direction as Cospedal, and Villarejo refers to manoeuvres by the former deputy PM (called la pequeña, "the little one" by the police inspector), to damage their images. "Alicia is [aligned with] Cospedal . They are against Cospedal. What I anticipated is that they want to present an image. I mean, the little one thinks the Catalonia issue has been worsened because Cospe promoted the operation," explains Villarejo on the tape.

This recording between the two police officers took place shortly after the publication by another digital newspaper, Público, of information on the case which had identified Sánchez Camacho as a driving force behind the operation. Villarejo reiterates this in the recorded conversation. In fact, the former police inspector believes that the publication of this information harming Sánchez Camacho was an attack on Cospedal.

Mas, Pujol and Trías

María Dolores de Cospedal resigned her seat in the Spanish Congress last November after several publications revealed meetings with and commissions to former inspector Villarejo.

Operation Catalunya was a para-policial operation aimed at obtaining information on pro-independence or Catalan nationalist leaders, such as former Catalan presidents Artur Mas and Jordi Pujol or former Barcelona mayor Xavier Trías, which was then to be leaked to the media to discredit them - publicly, in order to damage the independence movement. Villarejo was part of a special group organized within Spain's National Police corps, under the leadership of former Assistant Director Eugenio Pino. On 3rd November, 2017, the former police inspector was jailed preventively, on accusations of money laundering and criminal organization. Since then, a steady stream of audio recordings made by Villarejo have been leaked to the media.