THE EU’s top diplomat has been forced to confirm that an intelligence report linking former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his chief of staff with security forces in Russia was not written by European spooks.

Three months ago the document formed the basis of a report in the New York Times (NYT) which said that Josep Lluis Alay, Puigdemont’s chief of staff, met with “current Russian officials, former intelligence officers and the well-connected grandson of a KGB spymaster”.

The aim said the paper “was to secure Russia’s help in severing Catalonia from the rest of Spain”.

Puigdemont and Alay confirmed they had travelled to Moscow, but as part of a regular outreach programme to foreign officials and journalists.

Alay told the NYT any suggestion they were seeking assistance from Russia was “a fantasy story created by Madrid”.

Puigdemont and his fellow exiled Catalan MEPs, Clara Ponsati and Toni Comin, filed a question to the European Commission demanding explanations for the report, which was said to be written by the EU Intelligence Analysis Centre (EU INTCEN), one of the main sources for the NYT’s narrative.

Of course the story was picked up by some Catalan media and triggered quite a storm, but now the anti-independence Catalan Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, speaking on the commission’s behalf, has admitted it was fake news.

He said: “EU INTCEN is not the author of the report mentioned in the New York Times article … [and] does not know who the author of the report in question is.”

Cue red faces all round and some ridicule.

On Twitter, Puigdemont said the most important thing, apart from the report itself, was that Europe did not know who may have written it.

He said: “If the European intelligence agency officially declares that they do not know who may have made the report, either the agency is very unintelligent or it is not interested in being involved in a case full of falsehoods.”

Alay, also on Twitter, blamed the Spanish government: “The most surprising and embarrassing thing is that some Catalan politicians and journalists took for granted the story made by the state sewers.”

Ridicule came from Catalan media, including, where Vicent Partal wrote that the NYT had said it reviewed the 10-page security report before publishing the article.

In an editorial, he wrote: “It's good that this has been clarified, but I think it would be good to remember today that the manoeuvre was obvious from the first minute.

“It was obvious that it had nothing to do with journalism. And he only deceived those who wanted to be deceived.”

Partal said the day after the NYT story appeared, he disassembled it in an editorial “without much effort … partly because the text fell apart”.