Spain shelves charges against French alleged ‘assassin’ spies

Philippe RondotBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A court in Spain has quietly shelved charges against two French spies who were caught in Barcelona with a custom-designed sniper rifle. The two men were detained in the Catalonian town of Manresa in April of 2002. The Audi car in which they were riding was stopped at a checkpoint manned by members of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police, who promptly searched it. In the back of the car, police officers found a large PVC tube that contained a sniper rifle complete with a laser telescopic light and a silencer. The two men carried French travel documents identifying them as “Christian Piazzole” and “Rachid Chaouati”. Piazzole’s documents were found to be false, and there were suspicions that Chaouati’s may also have been forged. Spanish authorities concluded that the two men, who admitted they were officers of France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), were in Spain to conduct an assassination. In a words of a state prosecutor in Barcelona, the DGSE spies had come to Spain “to kill”. Their arrest prompted an emergency visit to Madrid of a high-level French government delegation headed by General Philippe Rondot, a former senior intelligence officer at the DGSE. Rondot told Spanish officials that the two men were “on a training exercise”. In October of 2002, the Spanish Ministry of Interior commanded the Office of the State Attorney General to grant the two French spies “provisional release”, based on the rationale that there had been no victims involved in the case. Piazzole and Chaouati were promptly released after Rondot provided personal assurances that they would return to Spain to attend their trial for illegal weapons possession in early 2004. The charges carried a maximum sentence of seven years. It was said at the time that, in exchange for the two spies’ release, Paris pledged to continue to assist Spanish intelligence in their efforts against the Basque separatist militants of ETA, and agreed to extradite a number of ETA members serving time in French prisons. However, soon after their release, Piazzole and Chaouati vanished. They were found to be in contempt of court after they failed to return to Spain for their 2004 trial, as agreed. Since that time, Spanish media have sought to solve the mystery of the two French spies, but have been met with a wall of silence from Spanish and French authorities. Now 85, Jesús Cardenal, who was serving as State Attorney General in 2002, told journalists in 2009 that he had “no recollection” of the case. Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, who was Minister of Interior at the time, consistently refuses to comment on the case. Last week, a Provincial Court in the city of Barcelona shelved all charges and lifted an arrest order against the two men, after verifying that the case against them had expired under the statute of limitations. Spanish newspaper El País said it talked to a Barcelona magistrate with direct knowledge of the case, who said that the case against the two French spies “was resolved with political criteria, not criminal”.

Thanks to intelNews reader R.W. for this news tip.

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