Judge extends probe into Catalonia crypto deal after reading two-year-old story

A Spanish court has extended a probe into Russia’s alleged involvement in Catalonia’s independence plans after the presiding judge was anonymously sent a two-year-old news report that revealed the name of the Russian diplomat supposedly involved.

Nikolau Sadovnikov was named in the article published back in May 2022 by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The article detailed the relationship between Sadovnikov and Catalonia’s former regional leader Carles Puigdemont, and a supposed deal between the two that saw Sadovnikov promise $500 billion and 10,000 Russian soldiers to aid Catalonia’s independence efforts.

In return, Sadovnikov requested that Catalonia loosen its laws on crypto and become the virtual currency equivalent of Switzerland. He also wanted the region to refrain from criticizing Russia for its treatment of opponents. No firm commitments were reportedly made.

Despite this promise, it appears Puigdemont only ever received a single bitcoin worth under $10,000.

The OCCRP reports that “the identity of the man who led the group and other details from the meeting appear to have not been known to the Spanish judiciary.” Now, however, as a result of the anonymous letter a Spanish judge has extended an ongoing investigation into Puigdemont, for a further six months.

“The magistrate has reviewed the ‘abundant documentation’ in the complex case and has found data that would confirm the ‘close relations between some of those investigated and individuals of Russian, German, and Italian nationality,’ wrote the OCCRP.

It added, “The judge said the interest of the Russian was to establish ‘political and economic influence’ over an independent Catalonia, which would destabilize the European Union.”

Read more: Russian oligarch evaded sanctions in UK crypto firm share sell-off, report

$500 billion became one bitcoin 

Catalonia declared independence on October 27 with little approval internationally. Spain quickly dissolved its parliament and fired Puigdemont. Despite this, Puigdemont’s associate Victor Terradellas kept in touch with Jordi Sardà Bonvehí, an intermediary for the Russian envoy claiming to be influential within Putin’s inner circle. 

Sardà repeatedly claimed Russia would fund the Catalonia separatist movement and promised to send Terradellas 56 bitcoin, worth under $525,000 at the time. However, reporters discovered Terradella’s crypto wallet, shared with Sardà, had only ever received one bitcoin worth under $10,000. 

Sardà also sent a picture of a suitcase filled with cash to keep Terradellas hopeful. Eventually, the pair met and Sardà gave him a supposed Union Bank of Switzerland deposit certificate of $500 billion. Analysts, however, claim the document is a fake, with one saying it is “one hundred percent worthless.” 

Specialists claimed the document was printed poorly while containing multiple grammar and spelling mistakes.

Sadovnikov strongly denied any connection to the Russian government and dealing with Catalonia when questioned by the OCCRP.  Puigdemont failed to respond and Terradellas confirmed the October 26 meeting took place.

Asked about the money, Sadovnikov replied, “Do you know what $500 billion is? That’s practically the budget of the Russian state. And someone’s going to give the budget of the Russian state to Catalonia? Well, you know, it’s not even absurd, it’s just, you know, crazy.”

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