The team of collaborators of the former president of the Generalitat Carles Puigdemont has recognized that between 2017 and 2020 he met with people close to the Russian authorities to promote the Catalan independence cause. This was confirmed this Friday in an article by The New York Times the head of the Puigdemont office, Josep Lluís Alay. Puigdemont’s right-hand man has also admitted that he met two people from Russian official power circles in October 2019, during weeks of street disturbances in Catalonia in reaction to the Supreme Court ruling in the unilateral independence trial and the illegal referendum of 2017.
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 European intelligence report”, without specifying from which country the secret services that have prepared it are, and on two Spanish agents. Part of the content of the article also comes from the summary of the so-called Operation Voloh, to which EL PAÍS has had access. The summary secret has been lifted this week. Operation Voloh, directed 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 the violent demonstrations and sabotage of 2019. Alay was one of those arrested in 2020 by order of Judge Joaquín Aguirre in the framework of this case.
Alay confirms that in October 2019 met are Sergei Sumim and Artyom Lukoyanov. The report cited by The New York Times identifies Sumim as a colonel in the Kremlin’s security service, and Lukoyanov as the son of an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Alay explains that it was a courtesy date and that Alexander Dmitrenko asked for it. The Ministry of Justice denied Spanish nationality to this Russian businessman in 2020 due to his possible links with the Russian secret services, as recalled by other information that appeared this Friday about Russian contacts around the former president of the Generalitat, developed by the Organized team of journalists. Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCR) and The newspaper. Dmitrenko, who has not responded to EL PAÍS’s request for information, has refused 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 official in cultural relations in the Russian Government. Dmitrenko, whom Alay considers a member of the Puigdemont group, was also present at this meeting, according to conversations intervened by the Civil Guard. Puigdemont’s secretary assures that he met with Primakov to get an interview with the former president of the Generalitat with a Russian state media.
In the conversations intervened by the Civil Guard, Alay explains to Boye that Primakov has congratulated him for helping him spread an article in Catalonia denouncing “how the establishment European ignores the oppression suffered by Russians in Ukraine ”, in the words that Primakov himself transmitted to him. “Eugeni Primakov is Putin’s right hand in the Kremlin for international relations,” Alay boasts to Boye, “some say he has more power than the foreign minister.” Both also comment in other talks on how they should convince Puigdemont not to publicly criticize the Russian authorities.
Alay denies the content of the intelligence report that assures that in Moscow he met with members of the Russian secret services, including Oleg V. Syromolotov. Boye admits to The New York Times who met Vasily Khristoforov in February 2020 in the Russian capital, accused of being a prominent member of organized crime. Boye assures that he met with Khristoforov to discuss his legal cases and not to collect financial funds for the independence cause.
In the summary of the Voloh case there are conversations intervened by the Civil Guard between Alay and Dmitrenko and in which they comment on an operation to sell oil for 295,000 euros to a Chinese company through a well-known Catalan intermediary in Hong Kong. The newspaper It also advanced that the Prosecutor’s Office has filed an appeal before the Barcelona Court to archive the investigation of this oil transaction. The judge values that it may 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 rule of law.”
Maldonado also criticized, as unfounded, 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 to boycott infrastructure after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the trial of the you process. Prosecutor Maldonado wrote that the judge referred this part of the investigation to the National High Court without the “slightest factual and legal motivation.”
Puigdemont’s team, residing in Belgium to avoid being tried in Spain for the trial of the you process, issued a statement in which it stands out from any irregularity, although it also implicitly admits that it maintains contacts with Russian representatives. “The leaks that have appeared are decontextualized from reality”, says the note, “all the international activities of the Office of President Puigdemont, as well as that of his Head of Office [Alay] and its legal team, headed by Gonzalo Boye, are perfectly legal and their objective is 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 by the State to criminalize the independence movement.
Possible Russian influence has planned for years in the conflict linked to the race for independence in Catalonia. THE COUNTRY revealed in 2019 that at least three members of the Russian secret services visited Barcelona on several occasions between 2016 and 2017. Last May, the National Court filed an investigation into these Russian agents because it could not be demonstrated 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 Operation Voloh were made public in which the independence leader Víctor Tarradellas boasted of contacts in the Kremlin to pay for Catalonia’s debt and to receive military support if an independent Generalitat recognized the annexation of Crimea to Russia.