The logo of Spanish utility company Iberdrola is seen outside its headquarters in Madrid, Spain, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez | Sergio Perez

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Iberdrola said on Tuesday it had sued El Confidencial over its coverage of an investigation into alleged corporate spying involving the Spanish power company, a move the independent news website said was an attack on press freedom.

Iberdrola said in a statement it was suing El Confidencial for 17.6 million euros ($20 million), alleging that over more than two years to November 2021 it published 225 stories on the case, including 68 it said were detrimental and 12 untrue.

A spokesperson for Iberdrola, whose market capitalisation exceeds 60 billion euros and had annual revenue in 2020 of 33 billion euros, declined to identify the stories involved.

Nacho Cardero, director of El Confidencial, said that Iberdrola's move constituted "an attack on the freedom of the press", adding that a major utility was making a multi-million euro claim against the website for "having reported 'too much' on a case in which its directors were implicated".

"This can only have one objective: to silence the press," Cardero said in a statement sent to Reuters. El Confidencial, with 200 staff, has around 22 million unique montly visitors.
Iberdrola CEO Ignacio Sanchez Galan is being investigated for alleged bribery and breach of privacy as part of a wider probe into whether the firm hired a former police chief to spy on Real Madrid soccer club president Florentino Perez in 2009.

A spokesperson for the court in Bilbao where Iberdrola's suit was filed on Jan. 21 declined to comment on the timing of any decisions. Judges at the court will decide whether there is a case to answer before proceeding.

Sanchez Galan last month testified in court in the case, which involves an investigation into three other executives. Iberdrola has denied wrongdoing by any of them.

The case began to resonate outside Spain in December when regulators in the U.S. state of New Mexico cited it in arguments against the approval of Iberdrola's $8.3 billion bid to buy local utility PNM Resources.