3 de septiembre de 2021
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The team of collaborators of the former president of the Generalitat Carles Puigdemont has acknowledged that between 2017 and 2020 he met with people close to the Russian authorities to promote the Catalan independence cause. This was confirmed Friday in an article in The New York Times by the head of Puigdemont’s office, Josep Lluís Alay. Puigdemont’s right-hand man has also admitted that he met in October 2019 with two people from Russian official power circles, during the weeks of street riots in Catalonia in reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2017 unilateral independence trial and illegal referendum.
The New York Times describes the efforts made by Alay and Puigdemont’s lawyer Gonzalo Boye to weave alliances in Russia. This newspaper bases its information on a “a European intelligence report”, without specifying which country the secret services that have elaborated it are from, and on two Spanish agents. Part of the content of the article also comes from the summary of the so-called Voloh operation, to which EL PAÍS has had access. The secret of summary has been lifted this week. The Voloh operation, led by the court of instruction number 1 of Barcelona, investigates several lines: possible irregular financing, a possible influence peddling of politicians and businessmen of Catalan nationalism, and the organization of violent demonstrations and sabotage in 2019. Alay was one of those arrested in 2020 by order of Judge Joaquín Aguirre in the framework of this cause.
Alay confirms that in October 2019 he met are Sergei Sumim and Artyom Lukoyanov. The report cited by The New York Times identifies Sumim as a colonel in the security service of the Kremlin staff, and Lukoyanov as the son of an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Alay explains that it was a courtesy appointment and that he was asked by Alexander Dmitrenko. The Ministry of Justice denied in 2020 the Spanish nationality to this Russian businessman for his possible links with the Russian secret services, as recalls another information appeared this Friday on the Russian contacts of the environment of the former president of the Generalitat, developed by the team of journalists Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCR) and El Periódico. Dmitrenko, who has not responded to the request for information from EL PAÍS, has rejected through his Twitter account to participate in any illegal activity.
Another meeting confirmed by Alay is the one he held in 2019 with Yevgueni Primakov, a senior Russian government cultural relations official. In this appointment was also Dmitrenko, whom Alay considers a member of Puigdemont’s group, according to the conversations tapped by the Civil Guard. The secretary of Puigdemont ensures that he met with Primakov to get an interview of the former president of the Generalitat with a Russian state media.
In the conversations tapped by the Civil Guard, Alay explains to Boye that Primakov has congratulated him for helping him to disseminate in Catalonia an article in which he denounces “how the European establishment ignores the oppression suffered by Russians in Ukraine,” according to the words transmitted by Primakov himself. “Eugeni Primakov is Putin’s right-hand man in the Kremlin for international relations”, Alay boasts to Boye, “some say he has more power than the foreign minister”. The two also discuss in other talks how they must convince Puigdemont not to publicly criticize the Russian authorities.
Alay denies the contents of the intelligence report that assures that in Moscow he met with members of the Russian secret services, among them Oleg V. Syromolotov. Boye admits to The New York Times that he met in February 2020 in the Russian capital with Vasily Khristoforov, who is accused of being a prominent member of organized crime. Boye assures that he met with Khristoforov to discuss his legal cases and not to raise funds for the pro-independence cause.
In the summary of the cause Voloh appear conversations intervened by the Civil Guard between Alay and Dmitrenko and in which they comment an operation of sale of oil for 295,000 euros to a Chinese company through a well-known Catalan intermediary in Hong Kong. El Periódico also advanced that the public prosecutor’s office has presented an appeal before the Audiencia of Barcelona so that the investigation of this oil transaction is archived. The judge believes that it could be “an irregular operation” or “the illegal financing of a political party”. The prosecutor Fernando Maldonado considers that this approach has a “prospective character” and violates “the most elementary rights and freedoms in a democratic society based on the supremacy of the law”.
Maldonado also criticized, as poorly founded, the judge’s investigation into the possible links of those investigated with Tsunami Democràtic, an anonymous group that in 2019 organized the main demonstrations and actions of boycott of infrastructures after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the trial of the procés. Prosecutor Maldonado wrote that the judge raised this part of the investigation to the National Court without the “slightest factual and legal motivation”.
Puigdemont’s team, resident in Belgium to avoid being tried in Spain for the trial of the procés, issued a statement in which it dissociates itself from any irregularities, although it also implicitly admits that they maintain contacts with Russian representatives. “The leaks that have appeared are decontextualized from reality,” the note says, “all international activities of the Office of President Puigdemont, as well as that of his head of Office [Alay] and his legal team, with Gonzalo Boye at the head, are perfectly legal and aim to contribute to the democratic resolution of the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain.” Puigdemont and his collaborators denounce being victims of a dirty war of the State to criminalize the independence movement.
The possible Russian influence has hinted for years in the conflict linked to the race for independence in Catalonia. EL PAÍS revealed in 2019 that at least three members of the Russian secret services visited Barcelona on several occasions between 2016 and 2017. The National Court last May shelved an investigation of these Russian agents for not being able to prove that their presence was linked to the strategy of Catalan nationalism to separate from Spain. At the end of 2020, conversations included in the investigation of the Voloh operation were made public in which the pro-independence leader Victor Tarradellas boasted of contacts in the Kremlin to cover the debt of Catalonia to receive military support if an independent Generalitat recognized the annexation of Crimea to Russia.