(Reading time main text: 8 mins.)
Spanish Government split with
- Governing Social-democratic PSOE voting with the Right and Far-Right
- Coalition partners Unidas-Podemos voting with Basque and Catalan nationalists to hunt down the King
The royal house of Spain is of the Bourbons, a fact settled as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), which drew in all the major European powers (and in which the Basque and Catalan nationalists supported the losing side). Its current representation and recent history is immersed in controversy, largely but not only around the figure of ex-King Juan Carlos, his former support for a fascist dictatorship, wide allegations of financial corruption and his wildlife shooting hobby.
Rumours of Juan Carlos’ intention to abdicate in the midst of reports of investigations into allegations of financial corruption were denied earlier in 2014. However the King declared his wish to abdicate on19 June 2014, news which was met with celebrations by leftist groups, republicans and groups seeking independence for the nations within the Spanish State.1 Many of these began to press for a referendum to choose between monarchy or republic.
Juan Carlos’ abdication was approved by majority vote by the Spanish Parliament in June 2014 and his son Felipe VI declared King. Backed by the right-wing Partido Popular in government and the formerly republican PSOE in opposition, 299 voted in favour with only 19 MPs of small leftist parties and of Basque, Catalan and Canarianpro-independence parties speaking against and with 23 abstentions.2
The Spanish Constitution (1978) gave the monarch legal immunity for actions taken in accordance with his duties but provided no protection for a former monarch. However, the Government changed the law, leaving him accountable only to the Spanish Supreme Court, a status shared with many high-ranking civil servants and politicians in the Spanish State3.
As reports in the media indicated that a Swiss prosecution alleging financial corruption might be imminent, in 2020 Juan Carlos left the Spanish State for an extended period to a secret destination, rumoured to a country from which he could not be extradited. The former king’s exile was officially confirmed on 3rd August 2020, his current location reported by the Royal Household as being in the United Arab Emirates. There is no extradition agreement between the UAE and the Spanish State.
The leadership of the governing PSOE wants to protect the ex-King and votes in accordance with that position, finding itself voting alongside MPs of the Right, the Far-Right and fascists. PSOE’s governing coalition partner Unidas Podemos (itself a wide Left coalition), backed up by the votes of Basque and Catalan independence MPs, wants to have the King officially exposed and brought to court on corruption charges.
FASCIST DICTATORSHIP BACKGROUND OF JUAN CARLOS
When the electorate in the Spanish kingdom voted in a republic in 1931, the monarchy was abolished and King Alfonso XIII fled. In 1936 a left-democratic government was voted and the fascists and a number of armed forces senior officers staged an uprising against the Republic. In an extremely brutal war, with massive assistance from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, they overthrew the elected government and instituted a dictatorship under General Franco.
In 1947 Franco reinstated the monarchy and skipping the line in succession for the Spanish Crown and, disregarding the exiled Juan, son of Alfonso XIII, who appeared to Franco to be too liberal, the Dictator in 1969 named Juan’s son, Juan Carlos, his successor as head of State. Juan Carlos had been studying in Italy but had returned to the Spanish state in 1969 and had the status of Prince of Spain under the Dictatorship; he was taken under Franco’s wing and in turn Juan Carlos promised to uphold the fascist regime.
Two days after Franco’s death, Juan Carlos became King of Spain on 22 November 1975 and Head of the Spanish State.
After Franco’s death the Spanish State embarked clumsily on the long-envisaged Transition to a parliamentary democracy. The ban on the social-democratic PSOE and Communist Party and their affiliated trade unions was lifted and, in 1978 a referendum was held on a unitary constitution (no right to self-determination for the Basque Country, Catalonia or Galicia nations) and a return to monarchy. Amidst a wave of repression and threat of return to dictatorship, with the PSOE and CPE leaderships advocating a vote in favour, the Constitution gained a majority overall throughout the Spanish state (not however in the Basque Country) and Spain was once again a constitutional monarchy.
The Monarch has substantial reserve powers in his role as the defender of the Constitution and insulting him is a crime in Spanish law, for which political activists, cartoonists, singers and rap artists have been tried and convicted.4
Much is made by liberals and supporters of the State of the fact that Juan Carlos broadcast a statement seeking support for the elected Government in 1981 when Antonio Tejero5, a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Guardia Civil led his short-lived coup attempt. The King’s name had been used by the conspirators to gather support and Juan Carlos’ statement at midnight on the first day of the coup attempt undermined the coup leaders. Subsequently Juan Carlos was presented as a staunch defender of democracy, hailed by liberals, social democrats and the leader of the Communist Party. Juan Carlos’ previous role as a staunch supporter of Franco’s fascist Dictatorship was revised or excused and his role in promoting parliamentary democracy in the Transition exaggerated (still to be found in Wikipedia etc).
Supporters give the impression that the King’s intervention was crucial in ending the coup. In fact, at the outset the plotters had little military backing and had failed to even secure Madrid; Valencia had been taken and surrounded with tanks by the coupists but the commander of the nearby military airport not only refused to support the coup but threatened to send fighters to rocket-bomb the tanks. Elsewhere, in cities and ports, despite a background of calls for insurgency by fascists and discomfort with parliamentarianism in the armed forces, these stayed quiet.
Rarely acknowledged too is that even after Franco’s death Juan, Carlos spoke of his ideological and emotional debt to the Dictator and not once did he retract his oath to uphold the fascist order.
Juan Carlos and his family receive receive the support of substantial funds allocated through the State and are also in possession of properties that were confiscated by the fascist victors of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. In addition, they have wealth accumulated through business connections.
Whispers about corruption in the financial deals of Juan Carlos began to circulate around the turn of this century the King’s overall popularity remained high. However a stunned population learned in April 2012, in the middle of an economic crisis in the Spanish state, that a Spanish Air Force jet had to be dispatched to collect the King from his secret trip to Botswana, Africa, where he had broken his foot. Since he had been photographed in 2006 standing by the body of his trophy elephant shot in Botswana it was widely assumed that had been the purpose of his secret trip.
Although a cartoon mocking the King and Queen had been published in a newspaper in 2007, with copies seized by the Government (but defiantly republished by the right-wing El Mundo), it was not until the Botswana episode that condemnation of him began to be widespread throughout social media, spilling over into the mass media. In April 2012, Spain’s unemployment was at 23% and nearly 50% for young workers. A controversy also arose over his Presidency of the Spanish section of the World Wildlife Fund and an online petition on the actuable.es website said more than 46,000 people had backed a petition calling for the king’s resignation from WWF and in April the presidential position was abolished.6
At the time, the King’s son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin, was also being charged with financial and political corruption7, along with the youngest princess, Cristina.
CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS INTO JUAN CARLOS
- Kickbacks from commercial contracts in the Gulf States, particularly construction of the €6.7 billion Haramain high-speed railway in Saudi Arabia, lodged in a Switzerland bank account and the purchase of properties in Monaco in the name of his former mistress Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, who is registered domiciled in Monaco. These details emerged in a 2018 leaked telephone conversation between herself and a former police chief. She also alleged being warned into silence by the head of the Spanish State Intelligence Service.
Very recently zu Wittgenstein-Sayn alleged publicly that Juan Carlos had asked for the return of the money, which she had refused and that she has received threats and fears for her safety.
On 14 March 2020, The Telegraph newspaper reported that his son FelipeVII appeared as second beneficiary (after Juan Carlos) of the Lucum Foundation, recipient of a €65 million donation by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. On 15 March 2020, a spokesperson for the Royal Household declared that Felipe VI would renounce any inheritance from his father and that the former king would lose his public stipend from the State’s General Budget.
- Royal Family credit cards from undisclosed Swiss bank account. Juan Carlos and the Royal Family had credit cards drawing on what appeared to be an undeclared Swiss bank account, with card drawings exceeded €120,000 in one year, comprising undisclosed income and was therefore a tax offence in Spain. Mexican millionaire and investment banker Allen Sanginés-Krause has been named as the owner of the cards, a friend of Juan Carlos to whom he donated sums of money using Air Force Colonel Nicolás Murga Mendoza as an intermediary.
In December 2020, Juan Carlos reportedly paid €678,393.72 to Spain’s tax agency with regard to the “opaque credit cards” used between 2016 and 2018 by himself, his wife and some grandchildren, to avoid further scrutiny from the Supreme Court’s prosecutor, the payment being an admission of fraud.
- Jersey and Swiss bank accounts. A third investigation is being undertaken by the Spanish authorities over an attempt to withdraw nearly €10 million from Jersey, possibly from a trust set up by or for Juan Carlos in the 1990s. Juan Carlos claims he is “not responsible for any Jersey trust and never has been, either directly or indirectly.”
A further investigation is taking place regarding the fact that until August 2018, Juan Carlos maintained a bank account in Switzerland containing almost €8 million.
It is reported that Juan Carlos made a private trip to Kazakhstan in October 2002 to hunt goats with Presiden Nursultan Nazarbayev and that on departure from the country he was given 4 to 5 briefcases purportedly containing $5 million in cash.
- Zagatka Foundation
Founded in Liechtenstein in 2003 and owned by Álvaro de Orleans-Borbón, a distant cousin of Juan Carlos who lives in Monaco, the Foundation received a large sum of money from Switzerland in which Juan Carlos is named as the third beneficiary. In 2009 Álvaro de Orleans-Borbón paid a cheque from Mexico for €4.3 million into the account which the Swiss adjudicated was from Juan Carlos. Juan Carlos appears to have drawn down funds from the Zagatka foundation to spend €8 million between 2009 and 2018 on private flights, receiving around €6.1 million.
Zagatka used commissions due to Juan Carlos and paid to Zagatka to invest millions, mainly in Ibex35 companies between 2003 and 2018.
A Swiss prosecutor is investigating.
- Lucum foundation
A Panamanian Lucum foundation had Juan Carlos as the first beneficiary and his son, now King Felipe VI named as second beneficiary (although Felipe VI later relinquished any inheritance from his father Juan Carlos). Lucum received $100 million from the Saudi royal house in 2008. Swiss prosecutors are concerned about who at the Swiss bank, Miraboud & Cie knows who the account was for and what was discovered about the source of the funds from the Ministry of Finance of Saudi Arabia. They are also concerned about a transfer of €3.5m from Lucum to an account held by Dante Canónica in the Bahamas. In 2012 the Mirabaud bank, which had concealed from its employees the beneficiary owner of the account, asked for the account to be closed, due to possible adverse publicity; this was when the bulk of the funds were transferred to Juan Carlos’ ex-mistress Corinna zu Wittgenstein-Sayn.
With the election of the right-wing Partido Popular under Aznar to Spanish Government in 1996, privatisation of public companies in telecommunications, gas and water were carried out. Under the guise that the Monarch had to be involved in the sale of state companies, Juan Carlos’ investment company Los Albertos received financial packages. And later, in 2003, his Royal status and links with the Windsor household were used as intermediary to sell the Zarogazano bank, whose two Chairmen had retired after fraud convictions earlier bank to huge British bank Barclays. Juan Carlos’ intermediary work gained him a €52 million payment.
Recently too the online newspaper Publico revealed that after Juan Carlos abdicated he still carried out ceremonial visits and was on an annual stipend of €190,000 but had made five trips to Saudi Arabia which he had not declared on his schedule. The Spanish State sold armaments to Saudi Arabia in particular during the Saudi war in Yemen, during which Juan Carlos was reported by the Saudi royal information organisation as expressing his support for the Saudi side.
PUBLIC ATTITUDES IN THE SPANISH STATE TODAY
Attitudes of the public vary across the Spanish state territory, with opposition to the Spanish monarchy probably highest in the southern Basque Country and Catalonia but Madrid also has a high Leftist population, along with a high membership of the Right.
The attitude of genuine republicans in the Spanish state is that they don’t want a monarchy, that they had got rid of it democratically and that it was later foisted back on them. Such people include various kinds of socialists and communists even though, as noted earlier, the formerly republican PSOE and Communist Party leaderships encouraged their members and supporters to vote for the monarchist Constitution in 1978. Supporters of Basque, Catalan and Galician independence are also generally republicans.
Currently the PSOE leadership in the Spanish Parliament is resisting the campaign against the ex-King, voting with the Right against the PSOE’s coalition partners who are further on the Left spectrum.
For the Spanish Right generally, the Monarch is a touchstone of their concept of a unitary Spanish state. Even though fascism originally, including its Spanish variant, favoured a fascist republic as opposed to a monarchy, since the Dictatorship, Spanish fascism upholds the symbol of the monarchy along with the memories of Franco and Rivera. The 1971 coupists (unsuccessfully) invoked the name of the King (Juan Carlos then) and fascist party Vox has been doing so again recently with regard to Felipe VI “in defence of his person against insults”.
The anti-monarchical corruption campaign is aimed at having Juan Carlos charged with financial corruption but for many the target is the institution of the monarchy itself. Many remember how Felipe VI in October 2017, rather than condemn the Spanish Police violence against voters in the Catalonia referendum, instead praised them in a special broadcast and lectured the Catalan people. Also, unfavourable comment is passed regularly in some public quarters from time to time on the attitudes and expenses of the Royal Family.8 All this is occurring at a time when the unity of the Spanish State is also coming under strong pressure. Ultimately the whole institution of the Spanish Monarchy – and much associated with it — is once again vulnerable to a degree that has not been seen since the Republic of the 1930s.
1These include the Basque, Catalan and Gallician nations but some also include Asturias, Andorra, Canaries, as well as the extended Catalan “family” of Valencia and the Balearic Islands.
3See Sources and References re immunity and paternity claims.
4Including Basque independence activist Arnaldo Otegi, cartoonist, a puppeteer, 18 singers and rap artists including Strawberry, Pablo Hasel and Valtonyc. https://www.dw.com/en/spain-imprisonment-for-royal-insult/av-56659019. Some of those, like Strawberry for his lyrics and two jailed Catalans who burned a photo of the King in public, were eventually cleared on appeal to a higher court whereas Otegi’s appeal to the European Court of Human Rights was successful and awarded damages against the Spanish State.
5An examination of the trajectory is instructive with regard to the democratic status of the Spanish State and the role of its military. Tejero was courtmartialed with another senior officer of plotting a coup in 1978, along with a third officer whose name has never been publicly revealed (!). Both were sentenced to the minimum, six months’ imprisonment, remained in the armed forces and retained their rank, Tejero’s accomplice even being promoted later. After the 1981 coup attempt, Tejero and some co-conspirators were sentenced to 30 years in jail but when and unrepentant Tejero left jail the last of the conspirators to walk free, he had only completed half of his sentence. He is considered a hero by fascists and right-wing military veterans.
6In 2005 Juan Carlos had also shot nine bears, one of which was pregnant. He was finally removed in as President of the Spanish section of WWF in July 2012 by 226 votes against 13 to delete the post. (See References and Resources).
7Urdangarin was later convicted of embezzling about €6 million in public funds for sporting events since 2004 through his nonprofit foundation, the so-called Nóos case, and of political corruption by using his former courtesy title of Duke of Palma de Mallorcas as the husband of Infanta Cristina (youngest daughter of Juan Carlos). In June 2018 Urdangarin was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months in prison; he is currently imprisoned in Ávilla en relaxed conditions in Ávila (Wikipedia) which are the subject of criticism as being too lax and privileged.
8It was not until 2011 that these became public knowledge, being declared as an annual budget of €8.3 million, excluding expenses such as the electricity bill, paid by the State.
REFERENCES & SOURCES
Coalition partners split on chasing down the ex-King: https://www.publico.es/politica/unidas-socios-gobierno-vuelven-pedir-congreso-investigue-fortuna-emerito-traves-venta-armas.html?
Insulting the monarch is a crime in Spain: https://www.dw.com/en/spain-imprisonment-for-royal-insult/av-56659019
Juan Carlos’ secret Botswana trip: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17730857
Shooting bears in Romania: https://www.rferl.org/a/1057122.html
Abdication Juan Carlos and coronation new Felipe VI: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/spanish-mps-back-abdication-of-juan-carlos-z2kgw73967m
Legal immunity up to the Supreme Court (amidst paternity claims): https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/31/spain-supreme-court-king-juan-carlos-paternity
Corruption investigations and allegations:
Involvement in PP Government’s privatisations of state companies: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgzGkZZrjJzwPhWlsBFQmrXDpkwJM
Undeclared trips to Saudi Arabia: https://www.publico.es/politica/juan-carlos-i-escondio-cinco-viajes-arabia-saudi-agenda-publica-2015-2018.html?
Allegations by former mistress: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/spanish-ex-king-s-lover-due-to-testify-in-defamation-trial-1.4458558