Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said that he is open to an amendment of the Spanish Constitution to limit the legal immunity of public officials, including the king. He also referred to news about the financial affairs of former king Juan Carlos I as ‘disturbing’ in an interview published on Wednesday.
As the scandal-ridden legacy of Juan Carlos I continues to haunt the Spanish monarchy, calls to strip the crown of its constitutional inviolability have grown louder.
‘The Spanish Constitution must evolve accordingly with society’s demands for exemplarity,’ said Sánchez in an interview with news outlets elDiario.es and InfoLibre.
‘There’s no room for impunity in our country,’ said Sánchez, who leads the left-wing (PSOE–Podemos) coalition government. He called news about Juan Carlos’ alleged role in a bribery-scheme involving Saudi Arabia as ‘disturbing’.
Sánchez was asked in the interview if he was worried about the damage to the image of Spain and its democracy due to information about money hidden by Juan Carlos I in tax havens.
‘Indeed, we are witnessing information that is disturbing to millions of Spaniards, myself included,’ replied Sánchez.
‘A healthy democracy … does not look the other way … [and] in this case it is not,’ he said. ‘There is a judicial power that is acting. And there is a [current] royal household [in Spain] that is clearly distancing itself from those supposedly reprehensible practices. These elements show that our democracy works and that there is no room for impunity.’
When pushed on the fact that it is the Spanish Constitution that establishes the inviolability of the king, Sánchez said, ‘Obviously the Spanish Constitution has to evolve in accordance with the requirements of exemplary and political conduct of societies.’
Appointed by Franco as his heir, Juan Carlos was long hailed for contributing to Spain’s transition to democracy following the dictator’s death in 1975.
But the monarch’s popularity collapsed as the last chapter of his 40-year reign descended into a spiral of scandals and alleged corruption, including an elephant-hunting trip to Botswana – as well as later details of multi-million euro ‘gifts’ to his former mistress, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein.
The relationship between Sayn-Wittgenstein and Juan Carlos I came to light as a result of a 2012 accident that Juan Carlos suffered in Botswana, when they were both on a hunting safari. The incident damaged the Spanish monarch’s reputation and is widely seen as the reason for his decision to abdicate in 2014 at the age of 76 in favour of his son Felipe VI. He then retired from public life in June 2019.
The Spanish Supreme Court is investigating Juan Carlos’s alleged role in a deal in which a Spanish consortium got a €6.7 billion contract with Saudi Arabia to build a high-speed train line.
The prosecutor stated that the purpose of the investigation is to ‘focus precisely on establishing or discarding the criminal relevance of deeds that happened after June 2014′, when Juan Carlos abdicated the throne and was no longer protected by ‘inviolability’.
The prosecutor’s investigation into the king has derived from another probe led by the country’s anti-corruption prosecutor over the second phase of a high-speed railway linking the cities of Medina and Mecca in Saudi Arabia – and which was granted to a group of Spanish companies, including the construction firm OHL, in 2011.
In March, it was also reported that public prosecutors in Switzerland were investigating a $100m bank account that was held by Spain’s former king Juan Carlos I in Geneva, according to a report first published by Swiss newspaper Tribune de Genève.
The money allegedly originated from a ‘donation’ made in 2007 by the Finance Ministry of Saudi Arabia, at the time that Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was the Saudi king. He died in 2015. The account, in the Swiss Mirabaud Bank, was reportedly in the name of the Lucum Foundation, a former Panamanian entity whose sole beneficiary was Juan Carlos I.
From this account, a ‘gift’ payment of 65m euros was later made in 2012 to Juan Carlos’s former mistress, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein.
It was then also reported by the British newspaper The Telegraph that Spain’s current king Felipe VI was the second beneficiary of Lucum and another foundation called Zagatka, also under suspicion.
When this came to light, Felipe renounced any future inheritance from his father, the emeritus king, because of the reports of his connection with alleged financial irregularities involving Swiss bank accounts and multi-million donations from Saudi Arabia.
Despite the on-going investigations into the Swiss bank accounts, Spain has so far refused to hold a commission of enquiry in the Spanish Congress.