BY CRISTINA GALLARDO October 28, 2020
The judge said he believes the Russian offer was declined | Josep Lago/AFP via Getty Images
A Russian group offered to send 10,000 soldiers to Catalonia to help the region achieve independence in 2017, according to a judge who is investigating alleged misuse of public money to fund the failed separatist bid.
Hours after Spanish police arrested 21 influential Catalan businessmen on suspicion of misuse of public funds and money laundering, the judge, Joaquín Aguirre, said a Russian group created during Mikhail Gorbachev’s era had offered “support” to former Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont, including sending 10,000 soldiers to the region and money to pay off Catalonia’s debts, if he declared independence. No more details on the Russian group were provided.
Although Puigdemont did declare Catalonia’s independence in October 2017, the judge said he believes the Russian offer was declined. The bid for independence, considered illegal under the Spanish constitution, led to the suspension of Catalonia’s autonomy, convictions for 12 Catalan leaders and Puigdemont fleeing to Belgium.Advertisement
“Had he accepted, the developments would have probably been tragic and would have unleashed an armed conflict with the state with an unknown number of deaths,” Aguirre wrote in an official report detailing the arrests and searches carried out on Wednesday, seen by the news agency EFE and several national newspapers.
The judge based his suspicions on reports from the Guardia Civil, one of Spain’s police forces, and two audio recordings found in the telephone of Víctor Terradellas, one of the businessmen arrested, who was allegedly in contact with a delegate for the Russian group.
Another of those arrested, Xavier Vendrell, a former member of the Catalan government and ex-member of the dissolved terrorist group Terra Lliure, was recorded saying he was being watched by the Spanish intelligence services and wanted to “guarantee the maximum security so that his relations with Russia did not become known.”
Aguirre’s report also mentioned a meeting between Oriol Soler, a businessman arrested as part of the same operation, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at Ecuador’s embassy in London on November 9, 2017. According to the judge, the meeting took place against a backdrop of a “strategy of misinformation and destabilization in which the Kremlin government would have also taken part.” The judge also said Soler travelled to St. Petersburg in June 2017.
Soler’s lawyer, Benet Salellas, described the arguments of the judge as mere theories and told the press his client would not be detained had not he been in favor of independence.
Puigdemont, who is now a member of the European Parliament, accused the Spanish state of an attempt to repress the Catalan independence supporters. “They are trying [to bring about] the political and civilian death of the independence movement, because three years after the declaration of independence we continue to fight for a fair cause,” he tweeted.