MADRID – Spanish national police detained on Friday one of its former senior commissioners on suspicion of bribery and money laundering, within an anti-corruption operation that has led to several other arrests.
The operation resulting in Jose Manuel Villarejo’s arrest is a joint effort between the national anti-corruption prosecutor’s office and the national police internal affairs’ department and was supervised by the National Court, which is to decide on the detainees’ fate, sources close to the investigation told EFE.
The sources said that an undisclosed number of suspects were arrested alongside Villarejo and that police raids were launched to search the suspects’ homes and offices for evidence related to their alleged criminal activities.
Villarejo gained notoriety in the past few years over links to a slew of court cases that became known as the “war of commissioners” which erupted amid the highest ranks of Spain’s national police.
The most sensational one involved a young man known in the media as “The Little Nicholas,” who was arrested in October 2014 on charges of identity theft, fraud and forgery.
Francisco Nicolas Gomez Iglesias (his real name), now 23, had allegedly infiltrated the upper echelons of political, social and economic power by feigning to be a powerful secret service agent, which made him gain access to elite events such as the coronation of King Felipe VI and allowed him to close questionable deals with prominent businessmen.
Villarejo is a defendant in the bizarre case, as he was accused by Internal Affairs Commissioner Martin Blas of committing several crimes – including disclosure of secrets, belonging to a criminal organization and illegally recording police officers and intelligence officials – in order to protect Gomez Iglesias.
He is also implicated in the Jan. 2014 stabbing of Dr. Elisa Pinto, a dermatologist who identified Villarejo as the assailant in a police lineup.
Pinto had previously sued Javier Lopez Madrid – a high-level executive at construction giant OHL and an influential socialite – for sexual harassment and threats.
Lopez Madrid was also among the executives at a bailed-out bank who were convicted for using fiscally-opaque credit cards that allowed them to incur in lavish personal expenses without paying taxes.
A close friend of the Spanish royal family, he entered the media spotlight when leaked private messages between him and Queen Letizia emerged in which the latter told the beleaguered businessman: “We know who you are, you know who we are. We know each other, we love each other, we respect each other. Everything else is shit. Kisses, yoga buddy. (I miss you!!!).”
Pinto said in court that when she was standing outside her vehicle, a man aged between 50 and 60 – whom she identified as Villarejo – stuck a knife into her abdomen and warned her: “Lopez Madrid wants you to keep your mouth shut.”
It was the second time Pinto had been stabbed in under four months. In the previous attempt, a young man cut her left forearm and told her she was defenseless before disappearing.
In a different legal proceeding, the former regional president of Madrid, Ignacio Gonzalez – currently serving a prison sentence for corruption – accused Villarejo of attempting to blackmail him.
In a secret 2015 recording, Gonzalez had asked Villarejo and another commissioner not to disclose the existence of a United States-based offshore company that nominally owned his penthouse in Madrid.
According to Gonzalez, Villarejo asked for money in exchange for his silence.
On top of that, Villarejo was called to testify as a witness on Oct. 16 before a Madrid judge to clarify the origins of a mysterious USB flash drive containing information on the finances of former Catalan president Jordi Pujol and his family.
A National Court investigating magistrate, Jose de la Mata, had ordered an investigation into the pen drive as it had been submitted by the police as evidence against Pujol, although its murky provenance and irregular chain of custody failed to meet the judicial standards to be admitted as evidence and prompted the case’s partial dismissal.
De la Mata said that the national police’s former adjunct operations director, Eugenio Pino – who directly reported to the ex-interior minister, Jorge Fernandez Diaz – had ordered the illegally-obtained information be included as evidence in the case.
Villarejo was a key witness as he was allegedly part of the secret police squad that in “Operation Catalonia,” which targeted pro-independence leaders in the northeastern region.