Miguel Ángel Rodríguez (right), chief of staff for Madrid's regional president, sent texts on March 12 to Esther Palomera (left), deputy editor of elDiario.es, one of which said, "We are going to crush you," after elDiario.es published allegations of corruption involving the regional president's partner.(Screenshots: Hora25/YouTube (left), Miguel Charisteas/YouTube)

Spanish official threatens and doxxes journalists at 2 news outlets after corruption exposé

Berlin, March 21, 2024—Spanish authorities must conduct a swift, thorough, and transparent investigation into threats against and harassment of elDiario.es news website and El País newspaper and their journalists by an aide to Madrid’s regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso, after elDiario.es published allegations of corruption involving the conservative leader’s partner, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On March 12, Ayuso’s chief of staff, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, sent a series of texts via messaging app to Esther Palomera, deputy editor of elDiario.es, one of which said, “We are going to crush you. You’re going to have to close … Idiots.”

When Palomera asked if the message was a threat, Rodríguez responded, “It’s an announcement,” according to news reports, and the website’s director and founder, Ignacio Escolar, who told CPJ via email that elDiario.es was investigating possible legal remedies.

Escolar said in an opinion piece that the messages were sent “to intimidate and silence us” hours after elDiario.es published two articles about a criminal investigation into alleged tax fraud by Alberto González Amador, Ayuso’s partner.

In addition, the Community of Madrid, which Ayuso heads, sent a statement on Tuesday to a WhatsApp group of journalists accusing two El Pais journalists—whose names and photographs were included—of harassing Amador and Ayuso’s neighbors while reporting at the couple’s house, El Pais reported. The statement also accused “hooded journalists” from elDiario.es of trying to access the house. Rodríguez acknowledged that he was the one behind the personal data leak, also known as doxxing, and the allegations, which the two media outlets rejected as false.

“Spanish authorities should immediately and transparently investigate the threats and false allegations made against the news website elDiario.es and its journalists and the doxxing of two El Pais reporters and ensure that justice is served,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Public officials should applaud media outlets that expose allegations of criminal behavior by politicians, rather than demonize and threaten journalists for doing their job.”

After the publication of elDiario.es’ investigation, subsequent media reports revealed that Amador had offered in February to pay the tax arrears but the prosecutor’s office did not accept his proposal, and on March 5 filed a complaint to an investigative court requesting that it charge Amador and four other businessmen with the falsification of invoices to evade tax.

In a March 18 video, Ayuso—who was not accused of any wrongdoing—defended her chief of staff and said the exchange between Rodríguez and Palomera was a conversation between “two people with a relationship of trust who argue on WhatsApp.” 

For his part, Rodríguez told El País that the text messages published by elDiario.es were authentic and he regretted that a “fight with a friend” had left the “private and individual” sphere, but the exchange was “an angry way” of saying that elDiario.es was “inventing a case where there was none.”

Palomera responded with an opinion piece saying that it was not a “quarrel between friends” as their relationship had been “strictly professional, occasional and the usual one between a politician and journalist.”

In a text message responding to CPJ’s questions, Rodriguez said that he had never threatened the journalists. “If you see threats here, it is your personal opinion. There have never been any threats,” he said.

 CPJ’s emails requesting comment to the press office of Madrid’s regional president and to the law firm Garrido, which represents Amador, did not receive any replies.