Close friend of Spain’s emeritus king transferred $39 million from “donation” to a US bank
27 Mar 2020

An information exchange between a Spanish judge and a Swiss prosecutor has shed new light on an ongoing investigation into alleged financial irregularities involving emeritus king Juan Carlos I, the father of Spain’s reigning monarch Felipe VI.

Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, has been waiting for the Swiss justice system to relay information about an alleged bank account that was opened at the Swiss bank Mirabaud and the $100 million (€88 million) that was reportedly deposited in it as a payment from Saudi Arabia.

Swiss prosecutors are already investigating this account, opened in the name of Lucum Foundation, whose first beneficiary was Juan Carlos I, on suspicion of kickback payments for the contract to build the AVE high-speed rail link to Mecca, which was awarded to a Spanish consortium, as EL PAÍS recently revealed.

King Felipe VI recently announced he is relinquishing any inheritance from his father, after news emerged that he himself was a beneficiary of Lucum and another foundation named in the investigation.

The $65 million gift

In 2012, around $65 million (€57 million) was allegedly transferred from this account to Corinna Larsen, a Monaco-based businesswoman described as a close friend of Juan Carlos. Larsen has told investigators that the money was a donation from the former Spanish monarch, whom Swiss prosecutors name as the first beneficiary of the Mirabaud bank account. In Spain, High Court Judge Manuel García Castellón and anti-corruption prosecutors are investigating these alleged payments.

Of the $65 million that Juan Carlos allegedly donated to Corinna Larsen, €39 million was later transferred by the latter to one of her personal accounts at a US bank in late 2016 and 2017. This money ended up at Fieldpoint Private Bank, according to a request for judicial assistance sent by Swiss prosecutor Yves Bertossa to Judge Castellón, to which EL PAÍS has had access.

Part of the money, according to this document, was used by Larsen to purchase and refurbish two apartments at the exclusive Swiss ski resort of Villars-sur-Ollon, and to acquire a mansion in north London worth £5 million (€5.4 million).

The request for judicial cooperation sent by the Geneva prosecutor on August 16 describes the main findings of the Swiss investigation following a raid on the offices of the lawyer Dante Canonica and the fund manager Arturo Fasana, who were the administrators of the Lucum Foundation, whose first beneficiary was Juan Carlos I. The Mirabaud bank account was in the name of this foundation. On August 8, 2008 a deposit was made worth $100 million, as a donation from the Saudi royal house.

Bertossa is investigating alleged money laundering and kickback payments for the contract to build the AVE high-speed rail link to Mecca, a project that was awarded to a Spanish consortium headed by the construction giant OHL. According to the prosecutor, the winning companies had included in their offer “a 30% discount.” In his judicial request, Bertossa ties this project to the deposit that was made in the Lucum account, and to the later transfer of the money to an account held by Corinna Larsen in the Bahamas.

Robin Rathmell, Larsen’s lawyer, says that the money was “an unsolicited gift” and denies any commission payments. This legal representative says the timeline “clearly shows” that the money was received before the railway contract was awarded, and notes that kickbacks are paid by the winning companies, not by the country where the project takes place.

Loans

Judicial sources say that the request for information focuses on the discovery of the Lucum Foundation, whose beneficiary is the retired king, and on the money transfers that this foundation made to an entity called Siam Partner, held by Corinna Larsen. The transfers were described as loans, and Siam Partner was allegedly created by Larsen, according to the Swiss prosecutor’s document, in order to secure the loans from Juan Carlos I with the aim of purchasing two apartments at the Villar-sur-Ollon ski resort.

The first loan was made on May 28, 2009. The Lucum Foundation transferred €1,242,356 to an account held by Siam Partner at Switzerland’s Mirabaud bank, via an intermediary account that is also mentioned in the document. On October 15 of that same year, Larsen received a further €324,000 from Lucum at her HSBC account in Monaco. And on November 3 she received another transfer worth €150,000. Bertossa writes that these payments were tied to refurbishments made in both apartments.

By José María Irujo, El País, 25 March 2020

Read more at El País

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