Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, also known as Corinna Larsen, the ex-lover of Spain’s former king, Juan Carlos I, testified on Friday that her life had been threatened by a Spanish former spy chief on orders from the monarch himself and that it had ‘terrified’ her.
The testimony from the German-born business consultant came during the trial of José Manuel Villarejo, a retired police superintendent suspected of large-scale corruption, having allegedly done ‘dirty work’, such as blackmail or threats, on behalf of companies or rich individuals over a period of several years. His revelations have shaken Spain’s elite.
But the allegations from Corinna Larsen have been denied by General Félix Sanz Roldán, who served as head of the Spanish Intelligence Service (CNI) between 2009 and 2019.
Speaking to a court in Madrid by video link from a magistrates court in London, Larsen said that Sanz Roldán had directly threatened her and her children in May 2012 on the orders of Juan Carlos I. In response, Sanz Roldán denied issuing any threats when he also gave evidence on Friday.
‘I have never, ever threatened a woman or a child – ever,’ Sanz Roldán told the court. He said that his presence in London in May 2012 was on public record but he could not give further details as he was subject to the laws governing intelligence work. He said the CNI was only allowed to operate in Spanish territory and within Spanish laws.
Larsen has claimed that she was pursued and threatened by CNI agents following the end of her relationship with Juan Carlos I, who abdicated in 2014. She said in her affidavit to the court in Madrid on Friday that threats were made against her because she held ‘information and documents concerning financial and business dealings of the king emeritus and other members of the royal household’. She has claimed that the Spanish security services wanted to retrieve that information.
The relationship between Juan Carlos I and Larsen 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. The ensuing revelations eventually led to his 2014 abdication.
The trial on Friday had been instigated by Sanz Roldán, who claims that Villarejo defamed him in a TV interview in which he said he had threatened Larsen’s life. The former CNI chief has insisted that Villarejo’s comments during the TV interview were a lie.
Testifying in court on Friday, Larsen said Sanz Roldán had contacted her on a number of occasions to make clear that until she handed over the documents, she would not be safe. She said that he had threatened both her and her children in a meeting at London’s Connaught Hotel on 5 May 2012.
She said he had laid out various recommendations ‘which were in fact orders’, and which he advised her to follow. ‘He said unless I followed them, he could not guarantee my physical safety or the physical safety of my children,’ she told the court, saying his words ‘terrified me’. She also testified that the orders had ultimately come from the former Spanish king, Juan Carlos I. She said that the meeting in London had been ‘organised at the express wish’ of the king himself.
‘King Juan Carlos and General Sanz Roldán always took great pains to explain that the king was commanding the general to carry out these operations so that’s an important fact to note, that these instructions came from the top,’ Larsen said.
Following the meeting in London, Larsen said that she then returned to her home in Villars-sur-Ollon in Switzerland, only to find that a copy of a book about the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in a Paris tunnel had been left on her table.
She also told the court that early the next day she received a phone call in Spanish from an unknown number and was told that there were ‘many tunnels between Monaco and Nice’. Larsen has also lived in Monaco. She said that the phone call brought home ‘the reality of the threats and of the danger I found myself in’.
When asked by the prosecution why she had not come forward before now, Larsen said that she feared for her own safety given that both Sanz Roldán and Juan Carlos I benefited from diplomatic immunity.
‘Denouncing General Sanz Roldán, who is a secretary of state and has full immunity, I would have had to denounce the king of Spain himself as the person giving these orders and he was covered by immunity,’ she said. ‘We did not think that the police in London could actually help me or protect me.’
Larsen had met Villarejo at her home in London in April 2015, where she told him about the threats in a conversation which he recorded without her knowledge or consent. Villarejo said that he met her on the CNI’s orders, pretending to be a lawyer who could help her in order to trick her into handing over the documents.
Despite his work with the agency, his relationship with Sanz Roldán deteriorated in the following years and in June 2017, Villarejo leaked details of the threat in a TV interview. Five months later he was arrested.
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