Spain’s elite shaken by ‘blackmailer’ cop’s recordings

He may be behind bars, but a former police chief still strikes fear into the highest levels of the Spanish state thanks to his covert recordings of compromising conversations with the all-powerful.

Spain's elite shaken by 'blackmailer' cop's recordings
Justice minister Dolores Delgado is the latest high-profile personality to be embarrassed by leaked recordings with the disgraced cop. Photo: AFP

Spain's socialist justice minister Dolores Delgado is the latest high-profile personality to be embarrassed by leaked recordings of a past conversation with the “blackmailer,” as Jose Manuel Villarejo is now known.

READ MORE Behind the headlines: Why Spain's justice minister is facing calls to resign

The monarchy also recently saw red after Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, former mistress of ex-King Juan Carlos I, allegedly revealed that he used her name and that of a cousin to hide property in Morocco and Swiss bank accounts, according to another leak.

The 67-year-old retired police superintendent is suspected of large-scale corruption, having allegedly done dirty work, such as blackmail or threats, on behalf of companies or rich individuals for decades.

'Tip of the iceberg'

“Villarejo led a parallel police force that worked to manipulate the justice system, erase or modify legal cases, for big corporations and millionaires,” says investigative journalist Carlos Enrique Bayo, former director of the Publico daily which in 2015 revealed information about his shady activities.

For him, “most shocking is that it represents the tip of the iceberg of a state network created when the transition (to democracy in 1975) began and lasted forty years.”

A stocky, bespectacled man with a penchant for flat caps, Villarejo joined the police in 1973, two years before dictator Francisco Franco died.   

He has been in preventative custody since November 2017, accused of being part of a criminal organisation, money laundering and subornation.   

But even behind bars, he strikes fear among those who once had a conversation with him.

For decades, he secretly used recorders in his informal chats with politicians, judges, business people, police officers and prosecutors.


Justice minister Delgado was recorded over dinner when she was a prosecutor in 2009.

In the recently leaked recordings, she apparently used a homophobic term to refer to her openly gay colleague Fernando Grande-Marlaska, now interior minister.

The recordings also appeared to show her accusing judges and prosecutors of being accompanied by under-age girls during a trip to Colombia.   

In the conversation, Villarejo allegedly boasted about having used “a modelling agency” to get “vaginal information,” meaning secrets revealed to prostitutes by politicians or business executives.

Spain's opposition has called for Delgado to resign.   

But Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has stood by her, saying his government will not accept “blackmail from anybody.”

'State gutters'

Speaking to a parliamentary commission, Delgado accused the opposition conservatives of having used and protected a man who belonged to “the state gutters.”

She said that “according to anti-corruption prosecutors, Villarejo's mafioso police clan tried to influence national security policies and relied on civil servants, lawmakers, the media and people in the judicial administration” to do so.   

Bayo said Villarejo allegedly “created an institute for legal studies where magistrates from the highest judicial bodies earned 600 euros ($700) an hour to give lessons,” allowing him to “have exceptional ties” with them.

The former policeman stored his information meticulously.   

This, said Delgado, allowed investigators to find the equivalent of “three months of uninterrupted radio programmes” in recorded information.   

When Mariano Rajoy was conservative prime minister, Villarejo is suspected of having taken part in “operation Catalonia” with the aim of fabricating “fake information against separatist parties” and also far-left party Podemos, Delgado told lawmakers.

Villarejo allegedly earned considerable money by threatening or blackmailing people.

Rajoy was ousted in a no-confidence vote in June, partly seen as a censure for his handling of the Catalan independence crisis but also amid a perception that he had been weak on rooting out corruption.

'Thought he was untouchable'

According to the El Pais daily, Villarejo is suspected of having received millions to create a damaging case against a son of Equatorial Guinea's leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema, a minister who was in conflict with his own brother, the vice-president.

Several months before being detained, Villarejo gave an interview to the Sexta television channel, in which he revealed the names of several high-ranking police officers who he said had given him orders.

He admitted managing a dozen private companies, which he said allowed him to “act like an infiltrated agent” in cases where “the state couldn't intervene.”

“Villarejo thought he was untouchable,” said Bayo, who in 2017 caught Villarejo at his own game by secretly recording him.   

In that recording, Villarejo is allegedly heard saying that if lawmakers forced him to testify in an investigative commission, they would “really have problems.”

“If Villarejo starts revealing things about the Socialists, he will destroy them, but if he reveals things about the conservatives, he will destroy them” too, said Bayo.

By AFP's Laurence Boutreux


Ideological battle over abortion as Spain vote looms

A controversial anti-abortion proposal by the far-right Vox party has sparked heated debate in a key election year for Spain, with its left-wing government raising the alarm about extremist agendas.

Ideological battle over abortion as Spain vote looms

Last week, a Vox official in the northern region of Castilla y León, which is co-run by the right and far right, said doctors would have to offer women seeking an abortion the option of hearing the heartbeat of the foetus.

The measure is similar to that adopted last year by the far-right government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which requires pregnant women to listen to the foetus’ “vital functions’ before having an abortion.

The aim was “to promote childbirth and support families”, said the region’s deputy head Juan Garcia-Gallardo, a member of Vox which, like other parties of its ilk, has put a lot of focus on this ideologically charged issue.

READ ALSO: Spain’s Castilla y León to introduce measures to prevent abortions

Spain, a European leader when it comes to women’s rights, decriminalised abortion in 1985 and in 2010 it passed a law that allows women to opt freely for abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy in most cases.

A government bill which aims to guarantee access to the procedure at public hospitals is currently making its way through parliament.

‘Threat is very real’

Vox in 2022 entered a regional government for the first time since it was founded in 2013 when it became the junior partner in a coalition with the conservative Popular Party (PP) in Castilla y León.

The experiment in the region close to Madrid is being closely watched: polls suggest the PP would win a general election expected the end of the year but would need the support of Vox to govern.

Before that, Spain will vote in May in regional and local elections.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez used his address at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday to warn of the threat posed by the far-right, in what was seen as a reference to Castilla y León.

“We have to prevent these political forces from reaching the institutions… because the threat is very real, especially in those countries where far-right forces have the support of mainstream conservative parties,” he said.

He accused Moscow of using far-right parties to sow division in Europe, adding: “We will fight them with the same determination and conviction that the Ukrainians are fighting Russian forces.”

Sánchez’s executive has sent two notices to the regional government of Castilla y León reminding it that it does not have the authority to alter the abortion law.

READ ALSO: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

‘Drive a wedge’

Meanwhile, the main opposition PP has tried to distance itself from the controversy. It said the measure, which was first put forward by Garcia-Gallardo, will never come into force.

During a TV interview on Tuesday, PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo said: “No woman who wants to voluntarily interrupt her pregnancy according to the law will be coerced anywhere where the PP governs.”

Feijóo, who has pushed the PP to the centre since becoming leader of the party in April, did not hide his discomfort with Vox, which he said was “clearly mistaken”.

He said the far-right party had sparked a controversy that “clearly” benefitted Sánchez’s government, which had “a lot of problems”.

The abortion row has overshadowed other disputes troubling the government. They include a row sparked by a flagship law against sexual violence that toughened penalties for rape but eased sentences for other sexual crimes. This has set some convicts free after their jail terms were reduced.

Antonio Barroso, of political consultancy Teneo, said Vox was “trying to drive a wedge within the PP by pushing for initiatives that pull the party away from the centre”.

Controversies over issues like abortion could help Sánchez “to mobilise the left-wing electorate by capitalising on their potential fears of a PP-Vox government”, he added in a research note.