Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the former lover of Juan Carlos I, the former Spanish king, has told the BBC that there must be ‘hundreds of other accounts’ around the world related to his family’s financial dealings.
‘What I find extraordinary is that they’re rolling 40 years of the modus operandi of a family enterprise into a focus on one person. And that’s me … Because there will be hundreds of other accounts in other jurisdictions,’ she said during an interview published and released on BBC audio on Thursday, with journalists Linda Pressly and Esperanza Escribano.
Speaking to the BBC about a €65m gift to her from Juan Carlos, the Danish-born business consultant who was brought up in Germany also said, ‘I think it was recognition of how much I meant to him, how much [her son] meant to him. It was a gratitude for looking after him during his absolutely worst moments.’
‘I was very surprised because it’s obviously an enormously generous gift,’ she said. ‘I will say, though, that conversations about him managing his will during his lifetime had taken place in 2011. He started to talk about his death and what he wanted to leave in his will.’
‘He also mentioned he wanted to take care of me, but no amounts were ever discussed. He was worried that the family wouldn’t respect his wishes,’ she went on.
Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein has insisted that the king was not trying to hide or launder the money by bequeathing it to her – even though in 2014, he asked for the money back.
‘In 2014 he made desperate attempts to get me to come back to him,’ she said. ‘At some point he realised I wasn’t going to return, and he went completely ballistic. He asked for everything back. I think it was just a tantrum he threw.’
‘He’s confirmed to the Swiss proceedings that he actually never asked for the money back, and that I never carried money on his behalf,’ she added.
Earlier this week, Spain’s royal household finally confirmed the whereabouts of Juan Carlos I, two weeks after he announced he was leaving the country. It has been confirmed that he has been in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since 3 August.
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Juan Carlos I is under investigation by Spain’s Supreme Court for allegedly receiving commissions in exchange for interceding that a Spanish consortium won a contract to build a high-speed train link to the city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. But the court can only examine alleged wrong-doing after he abdicated in 2014, when he lost his immunity from prosecution.
Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein is also one of the individuals being investigated by a Swiss prosecutor with ties to the former king. At the centre of the investigation is a $100 million payment from the late king of Saudi Arabia that was placed in a Swiss bank account linked to a Panama-based offshore foundation in 2008. The beneficiary was Juan Carlos I.
The Swiss prosecutor is investigating whether this money was connected to the awarding of the contract to build the high-speed rail link in Saudi Arabia three years later.
The relationship between Juan Carlos I and Corinna was strong between 2004 and 2009. it then ended but they remained close friends. It only came to light after he went on a luxury elephant-hunting trip with her in 2012 to Botswana, paid for by a Saudi entrepreneur, during a very tough recession in Spain. On the trip he broke his right hip and was flown home for surgery.
Harassment by Spain’s secret service
After the Botswana trip, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein has claimed she began to receive ‘unwelcome attention’ from Spain’s Intelligence Service (CNI) and that her flat in Monaco was targeted.
‘From the moment I came back from that [Botswana] trip I was under full-blown surveillance,’ Corinna told the BBC.
‘This was the beginning of a campaign to paint me as this Wallis Simpson, Lady Macbeth, evil character who’d led this wonderful man astray on this trip during a big economic crisis,’ she said.
She has also claimed she was visited in London in 2012 by the head of Spanish intelligence, Félix Sanz Roldán.
‘He said he was sent by the king,’ Corinna has said. ‘The primary warning was not to talk to the media. He said if I didn’t follow these instructions, he would not guarantee my physical safety or the physical safety of my children.’
According to the interview, Corinna has also supplied the BBC with ‘a catalogue of police crime numbers relating to incidents she claims have occurred in the UK over the past few years’.
‘The harassment has never ceased – it has intensified if anything,’ she said.
‘But we will be talking about this in the proceedings coming up in the UK. The case will treat all elements of the abuse campaign. Juan Carlos will be the defendant, but he may not be the only defendant,’ she said.
The English legal proceedings related to the case are yet to be issued.
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Investigation into former king
Juan Carlos I is under investigation by the Supreme Court for allegedly receiving commissions in exchange for interceding that a Spanish consortium won a contract to build a high-speed train link to the city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.
While the Spanish Constitution states that a king cannot be judged by any means, Juan Carlos’ abdication in favour of his son, Felipe VI, in June 2014 apparently put an end to his immunity.
On 14 March, British newspaper The Telegraph published revelations that Felipe was named as a beneficiary for an offshore fund allegedly containing 65 million euros. The next day, the king relinquished his father’s legacy and withdrew his allocation from the royal family’s payroll.
In May, media in Spain then reported that Juan Carlos I was given 1.7 million euros in cash by Bahrain’s sultan, Hamad bin Isa al Jalifa, in 2010.
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In July, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said he was open to an amendment of the constitution to limit the legal immunity of public officials, including the king.
As the corruption-ridden legacy of king emeritus Juan Carlos I continues to haunt the Spanish monarchy, calls to strip the crown of its constitutional inviolability have grown louder.
Also in July, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau called the Spanish monarchy ‘corrupt’ and called for a referendum to remove the monarchy and install a Republic.
Juan Carlos – Franco’s successor – transition to democracy
Juan Carlos de Borbón is the grandson of Alfonso XIII, the last king of Spain before the abolition of the monarchy in 1931 and the subsequent declaration of the Second Spanish Republic.
Born in Rome on 5 January 1938, Juan Carlos was just 10 years old when he was put on a train to Spain. His father had agreed to have him educated under dictator Francisco Franco in the hope of one day seeing him sit on the throne himself.
Juan Carlos then spent 27 years under the shadow of Franco, growing up in a series of military academies. In May 1962 Juan Carlos married Sofia, a Greek princess.
With Franco’s blessing, the couple settled at the Zarzuela Palace near Madrid and had three children: Elena, Cristina and Felipe, who as male heir bypassed his elder sisters to the throne – and is now the present king of Spain, as Felipe VI.
Appointed by Franco as his political heir (who passed over Juan Carlos’s father, Juan de Borbon), Juan Carlos was long hailed for contributing to Spain’s transition to democracy following the dictator’s death in 1975. He took the throne within days after Franco died, in November 1975 – the first crowned head of state in 44 years, becoming Juan Carlos I.
A new system of a parliamentary monarchy was ushered in, and a new Spanish Constitution was passed by referendum in 1978.
Juan Carlos I was credited with helping to defuse an attempted coup in February 1981 by soldiers who stormed into the Spanish Congress building in Madrid, firing shots and holding MPs hostage for several hours.
The king’s appearance on television that same evening, urging support for the democratic government, was instrumental in blocking the attempt.
‘I knew the soldiers were going to agree because I had been named by Franco and was their commander-in-chief,’ he later remarked. He knew most of the officers from his own military training.
Despite the failed coup helping to endear him to the Spanish people, the king’s image suffered greatly in later years.
Whilst rumours of his numerous affairs were largely overlooked or unreported by the Spanish media for many years, his real decline started in 2012, after he accepted a luxury elephant-hunting trip to Botswana, paid for by a Saudi entrepreneur, during a very tough recession in Spain.
He was accompanied on the trip by his former German mistress, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, which only came to light because he broker his right hip and was flown home for surgery. Juan Carlos I made a public apology as he emerged from hospital on crutches.
The 2012 incident in Botswana 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.
‘Faithful to the political desire of my father … I wanted to be king for all Spaniards,’ Juan Carlos said in his abdication address, recalling the day of his proclamation as king.
Now facing investigation in Spain and abroad for alleged corruption, he had become an embarrassment to the Spanish Monarchy and also the government.
Juan Carlos I might have helped Spain’s transition to democracy and he also foiled a military coup, but he heads into exile under a cloud of corruption that has now ruined his legacy.
Click here for all our reports on the Spanish Monarchy
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