August 12, 2020

BBVA spied on its employees in search of moles that leaked to the press | Economy



BBVA examined thousands of emails and outgoing and incoming calls from its employees seeking communications with journalists to find out who provided them with information on corporate operations or relays in the entity’s dome. In the summary of BBVA-Villarejo case, to which EL PAÍS agreed, there are emails from executives that give Julio Corrochano, Chief of Security, lists of journalists and their mobile numbers to find out who they talked to.

“I would appreciate it if you could see if we can draw any conclusions from where that leak comes from.” On May 9, 2012, the then Director of Communication of BBVA, Ignacio Moliner, made that assignment to Corrochano. A journalist from The confidential had called the bank to contrast information according to which BBVA had said do not to a possible merger with Bankia. Corrochano answers to ask for the name of the journalist and his phones, and Moliner sends him a fixed and mobile name.

On December 12, 2016, a bank employee writes to the person in charge of Communication of the moment, Paul Tobin, and says: “As we said in his day, I send you the results of the communications searches with the agreed addresses”. And add a list of the emails of seven economic journalists of five media (Confidential Digital, Expansion, Five days, The confidential and the country).

These mail chains are just two examples of what, at least between 2012 and 2018, happened at BBVA: the surveillance of the employees’ emails and corporate phones to try to discover if there was a mole that leaked information to the press. Sometimes they were punctual searches, such as when the number two Communication in July 2015, Ignacio Jiménez, sent an email to Corrochano with the names and phone numbers of four journalists in which he said: “I commented. From the afternoon of 29 to the morning of July 1. See matches in numbers ”.

Sweeps monthly

But the practice became systematic, according to an email addressed to Tobin: “Every month at the beginning of the month we will send you the results,” an employee of the bank’s Global Forensics & Threat Intelligence department writes. In total, communications with more than a dozen journalists were monitored.

The documentation that BBVA recently delivered to the court investigating the bank’s relationship with José Manuel Villarejo includes Excel sheets with long lists of outgoing and incoming calls to journalists. In these you can read the time of the call, the duration and the location (latitude and longitude) of the corporate mobile. In other files there are lists of emails that record the sender, receiver, time of sending and receiving, other people in copy, subject and if the mail has been opened or not. This is information that was detected by the forensic analysis that the bank commissioned from the Garrigues and Uría offices and from PwC.

In one of the emails, of 2018, one of the employees in charge of the analysis tells Tobin: “I confirm that the searches are framed under the regulations of the good use of computer tools that the bank makes available to its employees”.

The bank: “Covered in internal regulations”

BBVA assures, at EL PAÍS’s questions, that this action is “protected by the legality and by the entity’s own internal regulations, insofar as it concerns communication devices owned by BBVA and the listings are prepared with information of the entity itself ”. A spokesman added that these lists do not imply any “irregularity” and stressed that “no evidence has been found that this same analysis had been commissioned to Cenyt or that Cenyt had developed call lists such as those generated by the bank’s internal services, or any others. ” The spokesman did not specify whether these monthly sweeps continue to occur, but said it is “power” of the bank to make them.

In another piece of the macrocause of Villarejo case yes they have found evidence of illegal commissioner spying on journalists. In a police report sent to the National Court, the contents of several files located in the computer equipment of Villarejo’s partner, Rafael Redondo, are detailed. They show that they illegally obtained the traffic of calls from three journalists, including Íñigo de Barrón, financial correspondent of EL PAÍS, in July 2016.

On that date, Barrón was publishing information about a profound remodeling of the BBVA dome. With the departure of Vicente Rodero, general director of Latin America, the powers of Carlos Torres were extended. That month, July 2016, it is included in a call surveillance file of bank workers with the journalist Jorge Zuloaga, who then worked in Expansion. It includes almost two full years of calls between this informant and communication team workers, who appear continuously in the listings for being in charge of dealing with the press.

Mistrust within the team

The existence of one or several moles worried in the BBVA, according to the emails found in the forensic report, which show that people are doubted within the Communication team and that the appointment of one of these is discussed with the Director of Communication workers with several journalists to go to eat a stew in 2016. The subject of the mail is “Communications of the month of November” and it is clear that these sweeps were made every month with a mailing list of journalists.

“We found a couple of emails that have caught our attention.” The person in charge of analyzing communications with informants sent in December 2017 to the Director of Communication, Paul Tobin, emails between a press office worker and journalist Jorge Zuloaga. Tobin replies that he has a lot of confidence in the employee but asks him to check if something has been sent from the corporate mail to the staff, a Yahoo. “To see if there have been previous cases,” he adds.

The emails also show that the bank was interested in knowing who could be writing a critical book with the entity in 2013.

In line with information about the bank’s expansion in Catalonia in 2014, which misses the dircom Moliner, a bank employee tells him: “For our part, the only hypothesis that there may be that there is no mole inside is that it has leaked through those who participated in the survey.”

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