Jesús García, Barcelona, 8 November 2020
Xavier Vendrell (right) with businessman Oriol Soler after testifying before the judge and being released.TONI ALBIR / EFE
Court cases can often be summarized in one sentence. Case 3% is the alleged illegal financing of Convergència. The Kitchen case is the alleged state espionage of the former treasury of the PP. With the Voloh case it is not so simple: it investigates the alleged diversion of public money from the Generalitat of Catalonia to keep, for example, former president Carles Puigdemont in Waterloo (Belgium), where he remains on the run; but also the disorders caused by the Tsunami Democràtic, the personal enrichment of businessmen with political connections and even a supposed Russian plot to support secession. Voloh is an auditory journey —the telephone conversations intervened by the investigators feed the entire summary— to the back room of the process.
The multiplicity of the investigation fits the name with which the Civil Guard baptized it. In Slavic mythology, Voloh is a complex god, with many attributions: of the earth and of the water; of forests, fertility or livestock; of wolves and snakes; from disciplines such as medicine, music or magic; even from the underworld. The defenses of the 21 detainees for crimes of corruption (embezzlement, influence peddling, prevarication, money laundering) see this dispersal as a reason for legal suspicion. If almost everything is investigated, they reason, then there is a “general cause”, a practice that procedural laws do not contemplate. The lawyers add that the process is not based on evidence, but on suspicions and hypotheses without contrast. Those involved go further and speak of “set up” against the independence movement. The origin of the Voloh case are two audio files found on the mobile of Víctor Terradellas, Puigdemont’s henchman and historian in charge of international affairs at Convergència. In May 2018, Terradellas recorded without permission long conversations with two members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the procés, a group of influential people who helped Puigdemont organize the illegal 1-O referendum from outside the Government. They are David Madí, former campaign manager for Artur Mas, and Xavier Vendrell, former ERC adviser, both of whom have become businessmen.
Terradellas fantasizes with them, in retrospect, about what could have been and what was not. About what can still be done He says he was in contact with a well-placed Russian group and that the Kremlin had promised to send 10,000 soldiers if, in return, Catalonia would recognize the annexation of Crimea. On October 29, when Operation Voloh broke out, that surprising detail – contained in the entry and registration documents – was made known by those investigated. The independence movement has used Russian history to ridicule the entire judicial investigation, which, as it turned out, goes far beyond Moscow.
The judge ordered, based on those audios, to tap the phones and install hidden microphones in the cars of Madí (a BMW) and Vendrell (Volvo). The defenses believe that it is a weak, inconsistent origin, and they plan to attack from that flank. They have a trump card in their favor: the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office opposed these eavesdropping by not seeing crime in a talk that also dealt, among other topics, about the creation of crypto-currencies.
The Prosecutor’s Office has been left out of the work of the head of the Barcelona Investigative Court 1, Joaquín Aguirre, and the Civil Guard. This distancing partly explains why the public prosecutor did not request any kind of precautionary measure against the detainees. The judge was forced to release them, a fact that was celebrated by those investigated as proof that they are innocent and “victims of persecution”, as Vendrell said days later on TV-3.
For more than a year, the agents were listening to Madí and Vendrell speaking with leading figures in Catalan society. The recordings show, at times, the hidden face of Catalan politics: Madí’s interference in the Department of the Interior, Vendrell’s contempt for the current leaders, the pressures for control of TV3 (Catalan public television), doubts of the businessmen on the Government of Quim Torra; the tensions, rivalries and betrayals in the independence world. They have also exposed irregularities that may be criminal. Vendrell, for example, asks ERC advisers (Alba Vergés, Health, Josep Bargalló, Education, and Chakir El Homrani, Social Affairs) streamline their private affairs. “In spìte of everything I have done for this country now they are such a pain in my ass”, he says, in an illuminating statement of principles.
The judge believes that Voloh shows the “client network” existing in the Catalan administration. The Prosecutor’s Office maintains that more research needs to be done before drawing conclusions. And the defenses denounce that it is a general cause and also “prospective”. “They have gone fishing, to see what they catch, without evidence”, sums up a lawyer.
The Civil Guard reports contain expressions that indicate that the investigation is still in the preliminary phase: “It is not possible to clarify what could have happened” (on the Russian plot); “We are not aware that it has obtained subsidies, but it is a possibility” (on CatGlobal; the entity that raises funds for the maintenance of Puigdemont in Brussels); “It is necessary to prove that this work was not carried out (on a payment from the Pro Selecciones Catalanas Platform). The use of the conditional is also abundant:” It is more than probable “,” it cannot be ruled out”,” it is perfectly possible “.
The searches in 31 offices and homes and the analysis of documentation may finish consolidating some hypotheses, although other lines of work are already more established. For example, the irregularities in the subsidies to Catalan sport, with 800,000 euros destined to a forum in Geneva (Switzerland) where almost everything (Silk Road, migrations) was discussed except sports. Or the urban redevelopment of Villa Bugatti, a wedding venue managed by Vendrell. In the interview on TV-3, the businessman responded comfortably about the Russian plot (“it dismantles itself”) but kept a prudent silence about Villa Bugatti: “I will not comment. But we will dismantle the accusations one by one”.