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Former police officer acquitted of libelling Spain's spy chief

Sam Jones in Madrid
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Agencia EFE/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Agencia EFE/Rex/Shutterstock

A former police officer has been acquitted of libelling the head of Spain’s intelligence services by telling a TV programme he had threatened the life of King Juan Carlos’s ex-lover.

José Manuel 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.

Related: Former Spanish king's ex-lover says she was threatened by spy chief

Villarejo, a former police commissioner, has been on remand since 2017 and is awaiting trial on separate charges including extortion, money laundering and bribery.

In his judgment, which was published on Monday, the judge, Jesús de Jesús Sánchez, acquitted Villarejo of both charges.

He ruled it had not been proved that the former police officer had knowingly made a false report over the leaked picture. The judge also acquitted him of the libel charge on the grounds that the prosecutor had withdrawn the charge following the hearing, meaning the state attorney, acting for the CNI and not Sanz Roldán, could not pursue it.

Giving evidence at the one-day trial earlier this month, Villarejo said he had only told the TV interviewer what he had himself had been told by Juan Carlos’s former lover, Corinna Larsen.

Larsen, who appeared as a defence witness, said she was persecuted by Spanish intelligence agents following the end of her relationship with Juan Carlos, who abdicated in 2014 amid plummeting popularity. 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 told the court that Sanz Roldán, acting on Juan Carlos’s orders, visited her at a hotel in London in May 2012 and told her that he could not guarantee her safety nor that of her children unless she did as he said.

“Of course [the words] terrified me,” she said. “I think anyone would be terrified. The fact that the head of the Spanish intelligence services travelled to London to meet me was chilling in itself.”

Larsen then returned to her home in Switzerland, where she found that a copy of a book about the death of Princess Diana had been left on her coffee table.

Early the following day, she told the court, she received a phone call from an unknown number and was told, in Spanish, that there were “many tunnels between” Nice and Monaco, where she also lives.

Larsen told Villarejo of her encounter with Sanz Roldán when she met him in London in June 2015.

Sanz Roldán denied issuing any threats when he gave evidence and said Villarejo’s comments during the 2017 TV interview were a lie.

“I have never, ever threatened a woman or a child – ever,” he told the court. He said his presence in London in May 2012 was a matter of public record but he could not say any more because he was subject to the laws governing intelligence work.

The verdict, which is not yet final, can be appealed over the next 10 days.