Catalan leader says to freeze parliamentary support to Spanish PM over spying row

Catalonia’s regional head of government Aragones poses at Palau de
Catalonia’s regional head of government Aragones poses at Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Catalonia’s leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party will stop backing the Spanish government in parliament unless Madrid takes measures to restore confidence after reports that it spied on pro-independence figures, the region’s leader said.

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That could spell trouble for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez as his leftist coalition government lacks a parliamentary majority and the party of Catalonia’s government head, Pere Aragones, has been instrumental in passing legislation.

Canada’s Citizen Lab group said earlier this week that between 2017 and 2020 more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement, including Aragones and his three predecessors, had been targets of “Pegasus” spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group.

Aragones told Reuters on Wednesday that trust between Esquerra and Spain’s ruling Socialists was now “next to zero” as he suspected Spain’s spy agency was behind the alleged surveillance, a move that likely required government approval.

“Until this confidence is restored there will be no possibility to continue as we were some weeks ago, supporting the Spanish government in terms of stability in parliament,” he said in an interview inside the 15th-century government palace in Barcelona.

He said the loss of trust would also halt a fledgling political dialogue after Catalonia’s 2017 failed independence bid triggered Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades.

The Spanish government on Tuesday denied illegally spying on the Catalan independence leaders, but did not comment on whether it had undertaken any court-approved electronic surveillance.

Aragones said the allegations were the largest known case of mass surveillance by a democratic state in recent years as he argued that software such as Pegasus should only be used in investigations targeting terrorism or organised crime.

He called for a “clear, strong and transparent” response by Madrid, including an internal and external investigation.

Aragones, who according to Citizen Lab was spied on as deputy regional leader before assuming office in 2021, said he had no certainty his phone was not currently being tapped.

“We cannot act like nothing happened … today it’s the separatists (tapped) but tomorrow it will be other sectors that are not part of the Spanish establishment,” he said.

(Reporting by Joan Faus, editing by Andrei Khalip and Alex Richardson)