By Inti Landauro and Belén Carreño
MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s High Court placed energy company Repsol and Caixabank under formal investigation on Thursday in the latest stage of a decade-old inquiry into alleged industrial espionage.
The court order, released to the media, calls for an investigation into whether the two companies hired ex-police chief Jose Manuel Villarejo to spy on the then chairman of construction company Sacyr, Luis del Rivero, in 2011 and 2012.
Judge Manuel Garcia Castellon considers there is evidence that Caixabank and Repsol intercepted phone calls made by Luis del Rivero and people close to him, the court said in a statement emailed to media on Thursday.
Senior officials from both companies have already been put under investigation on suspicion of possible bribery in the same case.
Repsol said it had paid 185,000 euros ($219,336) to Villarejo’s company, Cenyt, but its board had found no evidence of unlawful conduct by any past or present director, manager or employee.
Pledging to collaborate fully with the courts, Repsol said it would demonstrate that it had not broken any law and that it could not have known that anyone from Cenyt was still employed as a public servant at the time in question.
In a strongly worded statement, Repsol said it reserved the right to take legal measures against any public-sector actors who neglected to provide proper oversight of Cenyt, as well as private individuals who used the criminal proceedings for their own gain.
“Being investigated in the judicial investigation has no consequence whatsoever on the company, its governance or activity,” Repsol said.
A Caixabank spokesperson said the judicial process was ongoing. “As always, we will fully collaborate with the courts,” the spokesperson said.
Thursday’s court decision follows a request by the anti-corruption public prosecutor on Wednesday.
Repsol complained the court adopted the order without speaking to its chief compliance officer, despite repeated requests to that effect from the company.
Garcia Castellon will investigate whether the hiring of Villarejo was aimed at derailing a pact between Sacyr and Mexican state oil firm Pemex, which intended to take over Repsol at the time, Thursday’s court statement said.
Repsol was then partly owned by Caixabank.
Sacyr declined to comment while Pemex did not respond to a request for comment.
Under the Spanish judicial system, no formal charges can be brought until the first phase of investigation is over. Being under investigation does not necessarily mean there will be a formal indictment.
($1 = 0.8435 euros)
(Reporting by Inti Landauro, Belén Carreño, Corina Pons and Nathan Allen; Additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez Galarza in Mexico; Editing by Barbara Lewis, Kirsten Donovan)