Long-term resident

Visible man

A spectre is haunting Spain - that of a 70 year old man whose mask, dark glasses and perennial beret would make him look a bit like Claude Rains in the 1933 production of ‘The Invisible Man’, if he didn’t have such chubby cheeks. His name is José Manuel Villarejo and from 1973 to 1975 he was a policeman stationed in the Basque Country working on anti-terrorist - meaning anti-ETA - operations; in 1983 he was moved to the Citizens’ Security division of the central police station in Madrid, after which he stepped into the private sector for 10 years, running a total of 46 different companies - including a detective agency which had both public and private contracts – and pocketing about 16 million euros. In 1993, he reenlisted in the Spanish police and was also recruited by Spanish intelligence (CNI in its Spanish acronym), after which he carried out undercover work under the auspices of 11 different Ministers of the Interior. Considered untouchable for many years, in 2017 he made the mistake of publicly accusing Félix Sanz Roldán - the chief of the CNI at the time (now retired) - of having made death threats against Corinna Larsen, the lover of the former King (Juan Carlos), to convince her to make herself scarce after accompanying His Royal Highness on his disastrous elephant hunt in Botswana (an expensive outing made at the height of the economic crisis, only revealed to the public at large because His Majesty broke a leg when on safari). Six months after Villarejo’s accusation, he was arrested and imprisoned without bail on charges of money laundering and criminal conspiracy.

Feeling betrayed by the state which he had served so devotedly - and almost certainly on occasion underhandedly - Villarejo, during his trial (which started a year ago) started to sing like a nightingale about various distasteful activities he’d been involved in at the taxpayer’s expense, such as using prostitutes to glean intel from leading politicians and businessmen (‘vaginal information’, as he chose to put it in a 2009 chat – released to the public - with the current state prosecutor Dolores Delgado).

But what has caused the most outrage, at least in Catalonia, have been his recent revelations about the terrorist attacks in Barcelona (and the seaside town of Cambrils) in August of 2017. It had already been confirmed that the apparent mastermind behind the attacks, the Moroccan-born imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, was a CNI asset whose controllers cut off all contact with him the day before they took place; and that the mobiles of Es Satty’s group of young followers in the town of Ripoll had been tapped by the self-same CNI. Villarejo added the following information: the CNI had wanted to give ‘a small shock’ to Catalonia a few months before the October 2017 referendum on independence, in the form of an explosion of butane canisters hoarded in a garage by Es Satty on an abandoned estate in a town at the other end of Catalonia. This shock - albeit victimless - would have raised the security level in Catalonia from 4 to 5, thus necessitating a military presence which would have made the referendum impossible. But when Es Satty was accidentally killed in the explosion, his disciples in Ripoll - far more radicalised than the CNI realised - decided to improvise, killing 15 people by running them over or stabbing them to death. The lawyer of the father of the youngest victim (a three year old boy) recalls that when Villarejo revealed this information, neither the prosecutors nor the judges batted an eyelid. Despite repeated demands from three lawyers’ associations and the Catalan government that an investigation be opened into what looks very much like a botched intelligence operation with lethal consequences, the Spanish government has refused, its official reason – as voiced by the state’s delegate to Catalonia, Teresa Cunillera - being that Villarejo is an untrustworthy and possibly unbalanced witness. But if Villarejo really were so unreliable, what harm could a little investigating possibly do to the Spanish state? We’ll never know: 24 hours after writing off Villarejo as a credible witness, Ms Cunillera handed in her resignation and flew the coop.

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