27 Feb, 2023 @ 19:00
3 mins read

Corruption prosecutors in Spain seeking 15-year jail term for former interior minister in ‘Operation Kitchen’ 

jorge fernandez diaz ignacio gil

THE ANTI-CORRUPTION public prosecutor at Spain’s High Court has called for former interior minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz to be given a 15-year prison sentence as part of the so-called Operation Kitchen case

The 72-year-old former politician, who served in the Popular Party (PP) government of then-prime minister Mariano Rajoy as interior chief from 2011 to 2016, is to be tried for his involvement in the scandal. 

He is accused of setting up an irregular police network to spy on the former treasurer of the party, Luis Barcenas, while he was being held in prison for his involvement in another scandal, the so-called Gurtel kickbacks-for-contracts affair. Barcenas was later given 33 years in jail in that case. 

The operation was given the name ‘Kitchen’ from the ministry itself, thanks to one of the informants being dubbed ‘the cook’. 

The aim of the network, which was operating without any judicial oversight, was to get hold of any compromising material that Barcenas had in his possession and that could have been used to damage high-profile members of the conservative PP as part of Gurtel.

As well as calling for the prison sentence, the prosecutor also wants Fernandez Diaz to be barred from holding public office for 33 years. Facing the same charges are the then-head of the National Police, Eugenio Pino, and the minister’s second in command, Francisco Martinez. 

The three are facing charges of misuse of some €60,000 public funds, concealment of a crime and privacy offences. The money was allegedly used, in part, to pay police informers. 

Diaz claims he knew nothing about the spying. 

fernandez diaz
Former Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz in a file photo.

The prosecutor has also tried to include the then-general secretary of the PP, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, in the case. Although this was eventually not possible, the prosecutor’s conclusions ahead of the trial state that the involvement of ‘other persons’ in the network cannot be ruled out. 

Other police figures are also involved in the case, including the retired chief Jose Manuel Villarejo. The 71-year-old is at the centre of a number of court actions for allegedly making secret recordings for blackmail purposes or to destroy reputations on the behalf of his clients.

As part of Operation Kitchen, the prosecutor is calling for a 19-year sentence for Villarejo for the same offences as those of Fernandez Diaz, as well as a fourth: bribery. 

One of the key defendants in the Kitchen case is Barcenas’s former chauffeur, the police officer Sergio Rios. He was allegedly tasked with spying on Barcenas as well as his wife. The prosecutor is calling for him to be given more than 12 years in jail. 

According to the prosecutor’s findings, details of which have been published in the Spanish press, Operation Kitchen was put into action in 2013. 

luis barcenas
Former PP treasurer Luis Barcenas in a file photo. CREDIT: JOSE LUIS ROCA

The document describes an ‘illicit intelligence operation’, which was designed to stop Barcenas from supplying inside information he had gleaned from his job as party treasurer to the Gurtel investigators. 

The prosecutor details how Sergio Rios was used in his role as former chauffeur for Barcenas to track the movements of the then-treasurer and his wife, as well as making use of his access to documentation or personal belongings such as mobile phones. 

Rios then allegedly passed that information on to police chiefs, including Villarejo, who are thought to have passed it up the chain to the Interior Ministry. 

No trial date has yet been set for the Operation Kitchen trial. 

Barcenas papers

Luis Barcenas was at the centre of the so-called Barcenas Papers scandal, when Spanish newspapers such as El Pais and El Mundo published stories – including hand-written ledgers – showing that the PP was running a parallel accounting system. Among those alleged to have received cash payments was then-prime minister himself, Mariano Rajoy. 

The ruling in the Gurtel case, which confirmed that the PP had been running a slush fund, prompted the vote of no confidence that saw Mariano Rajoy ousted from power and Socialist Party leader Pedro Sanchez made prime minister. 

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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