MADRID, May 10 (Xinhua) -- The Spanish government on Tuesday sacked the head of the country's intelligence services in the wake of the 'Pegasus' phone hacking scandal.
Spain's Minister of Defense Margarita Robles confirmed that Paz Esteban had been replaced by her former number-two, Esperanza Casteleiro, at the head of the Spanish National Intelligence Center (CNI).
The move comes after revelations that the CNI had hacked the phones of leading members of the Catalan independence movement, including the current leader of the region Pere Aragones.
It was also confirmed last week that the mobile phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, and Robles had been hacked by an "external" source, which has yet to be confirmed. Esteban told a Congressional Committee last week that 18 Catalan politicians had been spied on, saying that judicial permission had been given to do this.
This has caused an important breach in relations between Aragones' Ezquerra Republicana (ERC) party and Sanchez's coalition government, who have at times relied on ERC's support to pass key pieces of legislation.
Explaining the decision in a press conference after Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, Robles defended the "the great international prestige" of Spain's intelligence services.
"There may be failures, in Spain and in all the countries of the world. That is why it is so important that we never lower our guard and that the National Intelligence Center is fighting every day with the greatest efficiency. It is necessary to strengthen the CNI and take a step forward, modernize it," she said.