16 Jul 2020
Damaging allegations over the financial arrangements of Spain’s former king Juan Carlos have placed the royal family under unprecedented scrutiny but are unlikely to result in current or futures monarchs losing their constitutional immunity, according to legal experts.
Juan Carlos abdicated in favour of his son, Felipe, six years ago, renouncing the throne after a series of damaging scandals including in a controversial elephant-hunting trip to Botswana as Spain was devastated by the financial crisis.
But allegations of impropriety have continued to follow the former monarch and have hobbled King Felipe’s efforts to move the monarchy out of his father’s shadow.
Recent reports in the British, Swiss and Spanish press have increased the pressure on the royal family. In March, Felipe stripped Juan Carlos of his annual stipend and renounced his personal inheritance from his father following reports that he was in line to receive millions of euros from a secret offshore fund with ties to Saudi Arabia.
Last month, Spain’s supreme court launched an investigation into the role the former king played in a deal in which a Spanish consortium landed a €6.7bn (£5.9bn) contract to build a high-speed rail line between the Saudi cities Medina and Mecca.
The inquiry is intended to “define or discard the criminal relevance of events that occurred after June 2014”, when Juan Carlos abdicated and ceased to enjoy constitutional immunity from prosecution.
Meanwhile, Swiss prosecutors are looking into a number of accounts held in the country by the former monarch and his alleged associates.
It is alleged in documents from the Swiss prosecutor that Juan Carlos received a $100m “donation” from the king of Saudi Arabia that he put in an offshore account in 2008. Four years later, he allegedly gifted €65m from the account to his former lover, Corinna Larsen.
Last week, Spain’s El Confidencial website reported that Juan Carlos withdrew €100,000 a month from the account between 2008 and 2012, and used the money to pay for some of the royal family’s expenses.
Juan Carlos has said that he never told his son he was set to benefit from two offshore funds, but has made no further comment on the allegations.
Although the Socialist party, which heads Spain’s minority coalition government, has sided with rightwing parties to head off a parliamentary inquiry into the king’s finances, it has been blunt into its assessment of the matter.
“It’s obvious that, collectively, Spaniards are hearing some unsettling reports that disturb all of us, and which disturb me, too,” the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said last Wednesday.
“But I think there are some things worth mentioning in all this. First, that there are some media that aren’t looking the other way – on the contrary, they’re reporting all this. Second, there’s a justice system that’s taking action. Third – and this is something I’m grateful for – the royal house itself had distanced itself following these disturbing reports.”
Sánchez also said the 1978 constitution – which stated that “the person of the King is inviolable and shall not be held accountable” – needed “to evolve in accordance with the standards and political conduct that society demands”.
Carlos Flores, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Valencia, said that while there had long been “doubts or suspicions” about the former king’s private activities, “what’s happening now with the discovery of all these business dealings is unprecedented”.
By Sam Jones and Giles Tremlett, The Guardian, 15 July 2020
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