The investigative sweep of Spain's National Audience is widening. As requested by anti-corruption prosecutors, the Spanish criminal court has brought the former defence minister and secretary general of the Popular Party (PP), María Dolores de Cospedal, into the investigation of the Operation Kitchen corruption and espionage affair centred on the party. Her husband, businessman Ignacio López del Hierro is also similarly accused. The judge has named them as under investigation for crimes of bribery, embezzlement and influence peddling in the framework of the investigation of a parapolice operation that sought to spy on and steal compromising documentation from former party treasurer Luis Bárcenas. Both Cospedal and López del Hierro were scheduled to appear today in the parliamentary inquiry into the Kitchen affair which is continuing in parallel with the court proceedings, but in the end the session was suspended before Cospedal appeared.
The National Audience judge also cited, for the same offences, Cospedal's former chief of staff, José Luis Ortiz; a former secretary of state for security, Francisco Martínez, and the former police commissioner José Manuel Villarejo. Cospedal has been called to court on June 29th; López del Hierro and Ortiz, on June 30th, and Villarejo and Martínez, on July 1st.
Ignacio López del Hierro was in the process of appearing this Wednesday morning in the Congress of Deputies' Operation Kitchen commission of inquiry when the judge's ruling was made public. Before the MPs, he took refuge in his right to maintain silence. He explained that "for legal reasons" he would not answer any questions. When the news broke, he admitted that the judge's summons did not take him by surprise. The scheduled afternoon appearance of his wife, María Dolores de Cospedal, did not eventuate.
The inclusion of Cospedal and López del Hierro as persons under investigation was requested by prosecutors last September. The judge has now decided it appropriate to grant the request, "having heard the testimonies necessary to make progress in establishing the facts and having studied the documentation." From the statements made and the documentation presented, judge Manuel García Castellón sees evidence of the participation in the parapolice operation of the former PP secretary general (number two figure in the party, below president Mariano Rajoy) and her husband .
In today's 16-page ruling, García Castellón reports that the investigation has revealed "key aspects of the plot", such as how chauffeur Sergio Ríos was brought in, the payments he received for playing his key part in acquiring documents, the circle of police officers involved, as well as the participation of former Spanish interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz and his right-hand man, former secretary of state Francisco Martínez.
The resolution states that the police officers were fully aware of the illicit nature of Operation Kitchen "with its aim of stealing evidence from a court proceeding, and making use of contingency funds from the interior ministry, which were to be diverted from the strict purposes legally provided for its authorization and use." The investigation includes recordings made by "dirty ops" police commissioner Villarejo, an analysis made of the ex-commissioner's diary and passages from the statement of Luis Bárcenas himself.
The role of Cospedal and López del Hierro
The judge points out that, from the agendas analysed, it can be deduced that Operation Kitchen was born on July 11th, 2013. The annotation reads as follows: "Talk 45 minutes. Plan against LB. Monitor communications, searches and summons of wife and son". From that moment, adds the judge, "a chain of annotations is detected that leads to the inference that Mrs Cospedal and Mr López Hierro took part in capturing the participation of Sergio Ríos" in the operation.
In this context, judge García Castellón says that "it would be useful to hear María Dolores de Cospedal and Ignacio López del Hierro about their participation in bringing Sergio Ríos into the plot, because their involvement, through Andrés Gómez Gordo, could have been decisive for him to decide to participate".
According to the National Audience investigating judge, the “senior bodies and directors of the administration of the state” created a “parapolice operation” that acted, outside the law, “at least between 2013 and 2015”. Its aim was to obtain "compromising documentary material on senior leaders" held by Luis Bárcenas, the PP's ex-treasurer, and thus neutralize political threats to Mariano Rajoy's government. Up to 55 communications were monitored without a court order, according to information published in the summary. The main target was Bárcenas's driver, Sergio Ríos, who allegedly received 53,000 euros to steal documentation, including compromising audios.