Spain's deputy PM says call for inquiry is part of attempt to discredit him

Sam Jones in Madrid
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Emilio Naranjo/EPA</span>
Photograph: Emilio Naranjo/EPA

Spain’s deputy prime minister, the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, has dismissed speculation that he may be investigated by the country’s supreme court, describing it as part of a long-running campaign to discredit him and his party, and to topple the leftwing coalition government and thwart its reforms.

A judge at Spain’s highest criminal court, the audiencia nacional, sent a written request to the supreme court this week asking it to look into Iglesias’ actions in relation to a tangled and long-running spying case.

Judge Manuel García Castellón is investigating the so-called Villarejo case, named after a former police commissioner who is alleged to have spent two decades spying on politicians, journalists and business leaders.

As part of his inquiries, García Castellón has also been looking into the 2015 theft of a mobile phone belonging to Dina Bousselham, a former Podemos adviser. Material from the phone – including intimate pictures and chats between Podemos leaders – ended up in the possession of Villarejo, with some of it leaking to the press the following year.

Iglesias was handed the original memory card from Bousselham’s phone by a media proprietor in January 2016, and says he held on to it for a few months to protect his colleague from pressure and embarrassment.

On Wednesday, García Castellón asked the supreme court to investigate the deputy prime minister for the alleged “offences of discovering and revealing secrets”, filing a false crime report and damaging the card, which was eventually returned to Bousselham.

The request came three weeks after the supreme court overturned García Castellón’s decision to rescind Iglesias’s status as an injured party in the proceedings, ruling that the allegations against him were “mere hypothesis”.

Iglesias said he and his colleagues were completely confident that the supreme court would reject García Castellón’s request.

“I think it’s quite obvious what’s going on with the request, and quite obvious, legally speaking, what the supreme court will do,” he told the Guardian. “But until that happens, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of noise around all this. I’m obviously not going to end up before the supreme court. It’s not even a hypothesis we’re considering.”

Iglesias pointed out that the leaks – which included sexist remarks he had made – had come at a particularly sensitive moment in post-election negotiations between Podemos and the Socialist party and had been intended to “damage me and our political movement”.

The deputy prime minister said there was ample proof that a “sewers of state” structure, operated by certain media figures and members of the conservative People’s party (PP), had long engaged in efforts to protect the party from judicial scrutiny and smear its opponents with fabricated political scandals.

“All those cases have been shelved by the judicial authorities, but they have shown that in Spain there are media powers that have spent hours and hours of TV and radio and newspaper articles spreading incredibly serious allegations against us,” said Iglesias.

“It was all to try to make sure that we didn’t get into government. And now that we are in government, it’s pretty obvious that some people are trying to topple the leftwing socialist government, which is the first coalition government since Spain’s return to democracy, and which is putting in place reforms to bring about a transformation of the economic structure of our country.”

News of the judge’s petition emerged just as Spain’s Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, was unveiling the government’s economic recovery plan. There has been speculation that the timing was not coincidental, but Iglesias declined to comment explicitly.

“It’s not up to me to speculate – that’s up to the journalists, who do a much better job of it – but people aren’t idiots and some things are too obvious,” he said.

Podemos sources said Iglesias had held on to the memory card to help a colleague and keep it out of the “hands of scum”. They also pointed out that the UK-based data recovery company that examined the card after Iglesias returned it to Bousselham had said it was “physically intact” and that there was “no obvious physical damage to the media” – contradicting allegations that Iglesias had sought to destroy it.

“The point is that this content ended up on Villarejo’s computer,” said one party source. “It’s just topsy-turvy.” Others have questioned whether Iglesias is being targeted because of his republican convictions and criticisms of the behaviour of the disgraced former king Juan Carlos.

The PP has called on Sánchez to sack Iglesias, but the prime minister has offered his deputy his full support and confidence.

“All this is probably the thing that’s doing the most damage to Spanish democracy,” said Iglesias. “The sewers of state are primarily a media structure, but they’ve also involved the illegitimate use of state institutions for illegal, party-political ends. That is very far from European democratic standards and I think the powers concerned know that our government is carrying out a series of reforms that will question the power that some non-democratic sectors have exercised over the institutions that serve all our citizens.”

He added: “We’re living through a new democratic transition in Spain and there are some old powers who are resorting to illegal means to hold on to that power.”