In a communiqué, the Spanish royal family announced the “decision of Juan Carlos I. to leave the country “because of the public impact that certain events in my private life have had in the past,” as the king emeritus is said to have expressed in an alleged letter to his son Felipe VI. These “past events in my private life” refer to dozens of corruption scandals and other escapades of Juan Carlos, which have gradually come to light. Juan Carlos left the country alone, without his wife Sofia and without saying goodbye to her. For Sofia, who had to endure his numerous corruption scandals and sexual escapades stoically, had de facto said goodbye for many years. By Marco Wenzel.
The decision to leave the country is unlikely to be due to the sole initiative of Juan Carlos. Rather, it is a move by the Royal Palace to separate, in agreement with the government, the appearance of Felipe VI from that of his father Juan Carlos I, thereby saving the Spanish monarchy, whose legitimacy has been increasingly questioned by the Spanish people by the endless scandals since 2012. Prosecutors have been investigating the former king since June this year. Now he has pulled the strings and settled abroad. Although he has not yet been formally charged, let alone convicted, he is still a free man. But that could soon change if he is found guilty in court.
Spain under Franco
On 14 April 1931, the Second Republic was proclaimed in Spain. The people had voted against the monarchy in a referendum and had high hopes for democracy and the new republic. Alfonso XIII, the then monarch, then left Spain without relinquisiting his claim to the throne. The left-wing Republican parties and the Socialists (PSOE) then formed a government alliance. The writer Manuel Azaa became Prime Minister.
In July 1936, monarchist and fascist military forces led by Francisco Franco, with the support of fascist Italy and the Nazi German Reich, seized on the democratically elected republican government of Spain. This was followed by the Spanish Civil War, which Franco won with the help of the German Luftwaffe and the Condor Legion against the local partisans and the international brigades. The resistance against Franco was strongest and most vigorous in Catalonia.
In his first years of rule, Franco suppressed all attempts at autonomy in the Spanish regions and executed several hundred thousand political opponents – or whom he thought of them. In order to maintain the Spanish version of fascism after his death, Franco reintroduced the monarchy in 1947, but did not appoint a king. As long as he lived, Franco himself wanted to remain head of state. But he brought back some young Bourbon princes from exile to Spain and trained under his supervision, including Juan Carlos.
Juan Carlos as King of Spain
Franco died in November 1975. Two days after his death, Juan Carlos was proclaimed King of Spain. Instead of continuing Franco’s legacy as planned by him, Juan Carlos proved to be a champion of parliamentary democracy and supported the government’s steps in this direction. In June 1977, Spain re-elected a parliament with Adolfo Suarez as prime minister.
In February 1981, parts of the army, together with the Guardia Civil, staged a military coup and stormed the parliament in Madrid. Tanks were on the rise in Valencia. The king, however, vigorously backed democracy and, as commander-in-chief of the army and in uniform, ordered the soldiers to return to their barracks in a televised address. The coup was thwarted on the same day.
The determined action of Juan Carlos to crush the coup and to defend the fledgling democracy earned him a great deal of sympathy among the Spanish people as the “savior of the nation”. He has been used to this throughout his career and even to some of his own.
However, over time, Juan Carlos seems to have lost the sense of reality. He probably believed that he could continue to benefit from the sympathy of the people forever and that, protected by his status as king, no one could do him any more.
A safari with consequences
The scandals surrounding Juan Carlos and the Spanish royal family, which eventually led to the escape last Sunday, began in 2012. While the Spaniards were suffering from a great recession, they learned that their king, together with his mistress Corinna, divorced to Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, née Larsen, had taken part in a luxury safari in Botswana paid for by a Saudi businessman.
Corinna Larsen is a busy businesswoman. Their consulting firms Apollonia Associates and Apollonia Associates Holding are registered in Malta and appear in the Paradise Papers. She worked for the London arms manufacturer Boss &. Co. organized exclusive luxury safaris for cash-rich customers and accompanied the king on one of those hunting safaris to Botswana in 2012, where Juan Carlos shot an elephant. Trophy photos of the king with a self-made elephant were soon on display in the media.
At the time, Juan Carlos was honorary president of the Spanish section of the international environmental and animal welfare organization world wildlife fund (wwf), which subsequently stripped him of the title. The then 74-year-old king of Spain broke a hip in a fall in Botswana and was flown to Madrid for treatment. The incident caused a great stir there, especially as it also made his love affair with Ms. Larsen known. After that, it came to a stroke.
The railway line from Mecca to Medina and other scandals
Juan Carlos is a friend of the Saudi monarchy, by far the most reactionary royal family in the world. He even apparently had the mobile phone number of King Abdullah al Aziz, who died in 2015.
At the end of 2011, a Spanish consortium, including the Spanish railway company RENFE, was awarded the contract to build the second section of the high-speed road between Mecca and Medina, the two holy sites of Islam, the official “guardian” of which is the Saudi royal family. The construction costs amounted to approximately 7 billion USD, the railway line was officially inaugurated at the end of 2018. For his mediation in this business, Juan Carlos is said to have received 100 million dollars in bribes from the then King of Saudi Arabia in 2008. The money was transferred by the Saudi Ministry of Finance to a Swiss account of the Panamanian foundation Lucum at the Bank Mirabaud in Geneva. The only beneficiary of this account was His Majesty.
This method of payment was apparently chosen to conceal the payment to Juan Carlos. From the money and from this account he transferred about 65 million euros to an account of his lover and close confidant Corinna in the Bahamas. She claims it was a gift to her and her son. In 2018, the Geneva Public Prosecutor’s Office opened a case for money laundering against the account manager, the managers of Bank Mirabaud and his former mistress Corinna. The authorities responsible for economic crimes in Spain have also been investigating this matter since 2018.
It is likely that Ms. Corinna received the money not only purely as a ‘gift from the king’, but also for her services to start doing business with Saudi Arabia. She said she had “carried out confidential missions for Madrid” and held talks to prepare for deals by Spanish corporations in Russia and Saudi Arabia. In any case, she regularly used Juan Carlos’s private plane, for which neither she nor the monarch had to pay. On secret tape recordings from 2015, Corinna Larsen can be heard claiming that Saudi King Abdullah transferred the money to Juan Carlos in connection with a six-billion-euro construction contract for a high-speed rail line between Mecca and Medina. Meanwhile, Corinna and the king have separated. “He doesn’t distinguish between what is legal and what is illegal,” the 56-year-old German accuses the Spanish king.
“Like a petty criminal builder,” says Carlos III, a criminal law expert at Madrid’s Universidad. But that’s not all. During his tenure, Juan Carlos accepted various gifts and payments from entrepreneurs and governments that had not been clearly identified as such. From year to year it got worse. Then there were women’s stories and then the fateful safari.
According to reports in Spanish media, Juan Carlos even wanted to divorce his wife Sofia and marry his mistress Corinna. His children are said to have dispersed him from this project and urged him to abdicate, which Juan Carlos did and renounced the Spanish throne on 19 June 2014 in favour of his son Felipe VI.
As if the scandals surrounding Juan Carlos had not been enough, an affair about the dubious business of his son-in-law, Iaki Urdangarin, was added to further ruin the reputation of the royal family. Juan Carlos knew about his dubious business, but he has remained silent for a long time. It was not until 2011 that he expelled his son-in-law and daughter Cristina from the royal family. Before the law, everyone is equal, the monarch said. He had probably forgotten to add that only he alone was more equal.
In February 2017, a court in Palma de Mallorca sentenced him to six years and three months in prison for embezzlement of six million euros of taxpayers' money, money laundering, forgery of documents and fraud. In 2018, the ruling was upheld by Spain’s highest court.
King Felipe VI
Since his enthronement, King Felipe has sought to smooth the waters and, in order to save the monarchy as an institution, present himself as an honest king loyal to the fatherland. Felipe is doing everything he can to maintain an impeccable attitude. Before the change to the throne in 2014, thousands of people had demonstrated in Madrid in support of the abolition of the monarchy. They called for a referendum and waved the red-yellow-violet flags from the time of the Second Republic. That was at least a warning to him.
The monarchy in Spain is in a crisis of legitimacy. Opponents of the monarchy are mainly found among young people, the left and the most nationalist regions, especially in Catalonia and the Basque Country. In Castile, Extremadura and the Balearic Islands, it remains popular and, of course, it relies on the support of the right. Monarchy is always on the right and what should the lost young generation in Spain expect from the monarchy?
And the Basques and Catalans have nothing to expect from the monarchy for their desire for greater autonomy, not even from King Felipe. Two days after the referendum in Catalonia on 1 October, on the very evening of the general strike that brought more than 700,000 Catalans to the streets of Barcelona, Felipe VI accused the General Assembly, the autonomous government of Catalonia, of standing “outside the law and democracy” on the initiative of the referendum on self-determination. The Spanish monarchy unreservedly supported the authoritarian policies of the Rajoy government and made it clear that the Spanish crown, together with Prime Minister Rajoy, would side with the repressive forces if a Catalan republic declared independence in the coming days. The measures, on the other hand, could range from the arrest of members of the autonomous government to the application of a state of emergency or siege and the deployment of security forces to subdue the independence movement.
In order to save what was still to be saved, Felipe distanced himself from his father’s machinations. In March, there was a rift between him and his father. Felipe even cut his father’s pension, which amounted to almost 200,000 euros a year. In addition, King Felipe announced that he would renounce the inheritance claims against his father. He therefore does not want to inherit illegal money. Nevertheless, Felipe is unlikely to have any money worries.
Meanwhile, the noose around Juan Carlos’s neck tightens. In June, the public prosecutor’s office in Madrid opened an investigation into the ex-king for the alleged bribe payments in the construction of the high-speed railway in Saudi Arabia. Corinna Larsen is due to appear in Spanish courts on 8 September this year. It cannot be ruled out that she will incriminate her ex-lover again. The king himself enjoys immunity until the day of his abdication in 2014, but the courts want to examine in their investigations whether Juan Carlos committed crimes after June 19, 2014, according to the prosecutor’s office.
According to the latest revelations, “Juan Carlos … In 2010, he brought a 1.7 million euro suitcase to Geneva and handed it over to its financial administrator.” The Swiss financial adviser stated that Juan Carlos had asked him at a previous meeting to create a structure in Switzerland to accommodate the generous gift of the Saudi king. If illegal funds continue to flow through this or other accounts after his abdication, it could become tight for Juan Carlos. On Tuesday, his lawyer cautiously pointed out that his client would be “fully available to the judiciary” from his new residence. His escape last Sunday was in any case also an escape from the Spanish judiciary.
After the escape
Juan Carlos had become intolerable. He has “decided” to go into exile. A political manoeuvre to maintain the monarchy and its interests without too much clouding the rule of Felipe VI through his father’s legal affairs.
According to El Pais, the departure of Juan Carlos I from Spain was decided at a direct meeting between Felipe VI and his father, after no agreement had been reached through mediators on how to prevent the scandal over his accounts in tax havens from harming the monarchy. The government knew about the talks, but the final decision was made by Felipe VI, as Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez stressed on Tuesday. The departure of Juan Carlos was long planned. Several scenarios have been considered. Juan Carlos might have left Madrid, but could have stayed in Spain, which the government would have preferred.
The meeting between Sanchez and the king, at which his departure was made concrete, took place in secret. Not even podemos, the government’s partner, had been informed. What is certain is that the President of the government has not informed Podemos, the opposition or the citizens that the king emeritus would leave Spain in the next 48 hours.
Although the fate, destination and duration of the journey are unknown, there is no doubt that Juan Carlos will make his living with all the amenities associated with his position as king emeritus, at the expense of public finances and thanks to the money accumulated in forty years of corruption.
Nevertheless, the monarchy remains unchallenged by the current government, and although polls for years have shown that the population does not have a good opinion of the crown, a referendum on the monarchy is hardly to be expected from the current government. Most political parties, including the ruling Socialists, already approved the voluntary resignation of Juan Carlos as a measure to save the endangered monarchy.
According to Le Monde, the scandals of Juan Carlos are increasingly worrying the executive. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Sanchez (PSOE) said the news about the former monarch was “disturbing” and “worrying.” The Head of Government wanted to speak on Tuesday, 4 August, after the cabinet meeting.
Pedro Sanchez, President of the government and Secretary General of the PSOE, is trying by all means to stifle a new debate on the question of monarchy or republic. Together with the right-wing parties, the PSOE voted several times in Parliament against having Juan Carlos' shady business examined by a committee of inquiry. Instead, the head of the executive called for the strength of the institutions, and in particular that of the Crown, to be maintained in the midst of the Covid 19 crisis. Speaking to his government partners Podemos, who have voiced their criticism of the monarchy after the emeritus king’s departure, Sanchez announced on Tuesday that “the constitutional pact is fully in force” and that it says “the constitutional monarchy.” Sanchez expressed the government’s “absolute respect” for the decisions of the royal family.
At the press conference after the Council of Ministers on Tuesday, the President praised Felipe VI’s decision to distance himself from his father’s “allegedly questionable and reprehensible behaviour”. If there were criminal or irregular acts, it would concern Juan Carlos and not the crown as an institution. “People are judged, not institutions,” said Sanchez. In doing so, he sent out a clear message in defence of the monarchy, sounding like a monarchist’s speech. As it has been for 40 years, the “socialist” monarchists of the PSOE still defend the constitutional monarchy. It remains to be seen to what extent the party base will continue to participate in the leadership’s policies.
The situation has not become any easier for the coalition partner Podemos, as Sanchez’s defense of the monarchy clashes with the position of his partners in the executive, who reject the royal institution and condemn the irregular actions of the previous monarch. But the vice-president and leader of the leftist Party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, has so far simply said: “The flight of Juan Carlos abroad is an attitude that is unworthy of a former head of state and puts the monarchy in a very delicate situation,” and called for the former monarch to be held “responsible for his actions.”
In 2018, Iglesias sounded very different. “What do we need a monarchy for in 2018?” he asked in an interview with the newspaper El Pais at the time. It is difficult to understand in the 21st century that the head of state is determined by succession and not by a democratic election, Iglesias also fired over a newspaper column in the newspaper El Mundo. The historical function of the king, which he played during the transition from the Franco dictatorship to democracy in the 1970s, has now lost its meaning. In the meantime, many citizens associate the royal family with unreasonable privileges and corruption, Iglesias tweeted. Nevertheless, Iglesias said last Tuesday at least that “the debate about the usefulness of the monarchy is open. Pushed by the youth […], a Republican horizon will sooner or later become a reality”.
In the party of the coalition partner of the PSOE, Unidas Podemos, there will soon be serious discussions about the course of the party leadership on the question of the abolition of the monarchy. For their base is consistently Republican-minded and will continue to put pressure on the party leadership to call for a referendum on the monarchy. Gloria Elizio, a member of Podemos' executive branch, who is responsible for anti-corruption and vice-president of the House of Representatives, is also calling for a referendum and the abdication of King Felipe.
The government’s course so far is that the PSOE does not want to touch the hot iron monarchy or republic, as well as almost all other so-called “socialist” parties in the countries where the monarchy still exists. And the coalition partner Podemos wants to stand still for the time being so as not to jeopardize the government alliance. Sanchez calmly encounters the divergences on the question of monarchy. “We are two different forces with different positions on many issues,” he said. On this point, Iglesias made a similar statement. He pointed out that “no one can be surprised that there are discrepancies” between two different parties, adding that “the coalition government still has many years to go”. “If there is an unpleasant situation within the coalition,” said the second vice-president, “it will be solved by Pedro Sanchez and me”.
On the other hand, the Catalan independence movements, which are very anti-monarchist, expressed themselves as follows. “Spain has a thief less …. The bad news is that he will not end up in prison or in front of a judge, but in a villa in Santo Domingo,” said Gabriel Rufian, spokesman for the parliamentary group of the Republican Left of Catalonia.
A good moment would have come right now to abolish the monarchy in Spain. Polls show that the monarchy’s standing is in free fall and its discrediting is rampant, especially among Spaniards under the age of 45. Sanchez’s ploy to claim that the Spanish institutions are not at the disposal is pure hypocrisy. For at least until this time not all Spanish institutions are at stake, but the institution of monarchy.
With the inglorious departure of Juan Carlos, which must also be seen as an escape from the Spanish judiciary, the critics of the monarchy have once again gained upper water. Calls for a referendum against the royal family are growing louder. The monarchy is considered anachronistic. Even under the lockdown, many Spaniards had protested against the royal family by smashing cooking pots against the wall of the house on their balcony, as more and more scandals around Juan Carlos were revealed. And the Catalans and Basques no longer want to resign themselves to being ruled by a Castilian royal clan whose members are repeatedly embroiled in corruption scandals. “Felipe is not our king,” is the slogan in Barcelona.
The outcome of a referendum on the matter would at least be very uncertain. But if the left-wing parties also campaigned for the republic in a referendum, the days of the monarchy would be numbered. And from the left and socialists, no matter how “moderate” they may be, one should expect that they are at least not monarchists. Moreover, the road to a modern and democratic future of any kind in any country in the world will not pass by the abolition of the anachronistic medieval institution monarchy. It no longer has a right to exist in a democratically-led state.
Even the neoliberal ideology that currently prevails, based on meritocratic beliefs and according to which everyone should be a blacksmith of his own happiness, stands in the way of a society based on the primacy of birth. The happiness of being born as a king is given to only a few and is also independent of individual diligence and effort. The Dauphin does not need to qualify for his later “job” as king, nor does he have to compete with any competitors for it. After the father, his son becomes king, basta. And usually the male successors are the heirs to the throne.
Article 1 of the Charter of Human Rights states: “All people are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” This declaration was signed by 191 states, including Spain.
But monarchs seem to be more equal. It is time to apply the Charter of Human Rights consistently to the blue blood. In a monarchy, it is not the people and the parliament elected by them that is the sovereign, but vice versa: the head of state is the monarch to whom parliament is subordinate.
It is not officially known where Juan Carlos is at the moment. He is rumoured to be in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The UAE borders Saudi Arabia and has been waging a war of aggression against Yemen in violation of international law since 2015. He would be back in the best company, with his old friends from better days. And they will make sure that nothing happens to him.