A former police inspector accused of spying on and working to discredit some of Spain’s most high-profile politicians and business people has gone on trial to face charges including bribery, forgery, extortion and influence peddling.

José Manuel Villarejo, 70, a former officer in Spain’s national police force, was arrested in 2017 and could face a jail term of 109 years if convicted. He is accused of involvement in a network of corrupt politicians, businesspeople, police officers and media figures known as the “sewers of state”.

The proceedings, which began on Wednesday at Spain’s highest criminal court, will examine three of 30 cases allegedly involving Villarejo.

Prosecutors allege he spent years on the payroll of private clients and big companies who used his services to spy on their rivals and dig up dirt. Police investigating the case seized more than 40 terabytes of information that Villarejo had collected.

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More than two dozen defendants are on trial alongside Villarejo, including his wife, his son, his business partner and fellow former police officers.

Arriving at the court in San Fernando de Henares, Villarejo said he was innocent and believed he would receive a fair trial.

“I hope it won’t be popular justice – that would be like a western lynching,” he told reporters. “I have a fervent belief in the independence of the judges and I’m very calm. This is a state with checks and balances and I trust that the overwhelming majority of judges and prosecutors in this country are independent. No matter the pressures that have been brought to be bear on them, I trust that this will be a fair trial.”

Villarejo said rather than being treated as an alleged criminal, he had been treated “like an enemy that needs to be destroyed”.

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Police investigations and legal proceedings have linked Villarejo to cases involving some of Spain’s most powerful institutions, from the conservative People’s party – whose corruption-mired government was toppled three years ago – to the royal family.

In January, Villarejo was acquitted of libelling the head of Spain’s intelligence services by telling a TV programme the spy chief had threatened the life of King Juan Carlos’s ex-lover Corinna Larsen.

Villarejo was also cleared of making a false complaint after claiming that Félix Sanz Roldán, the head of Spain’s National Intelligence Centre (CNI) from 2009 to 2019, had deliberately leaked a picture to the press taken while Villarejo was taking part in an undercover counter-terrorist operation.

Larsen, who appeared as a defence witness, said she was persecuted by Spanish intelligence agents after the end of her relationship with Juan Carlos, who abdicated in 2014 amid plummeting popularity.

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She said in her affidavit to the court in Madrid that threats were made against her because she held “information and documents concerning financial and business dealings of the king emeritus and other members of the royal household”.

Larsen said she had met Villarejo in April 2015 after one of her closest friends told her he had information about how the CNI intended to implicate her in criminal activity. It was during that two-hour meeting that Larsen told him she had met Sanz Roldán at the Connaught hotel in London, and that he had told her he could not guarantee her physical safety or that of her children unless she followed “various conditions and instructions and recommendations”.

The trial is expected to last until the beginning of next year.



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