A British court ruled on Thursday that royal immunity laws do not protect Spain’s former king Juan Carlos I in a lawsuit for alleged harassment filed by his former lover, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, also known as Corinna Larsen.
High Court Justice Matthew Nicklin said that because the claim involves Juan Carlos’ alleged private behaviour in the aftermath of a romantic relationship, he does not have legal immunity under either Spanish or British law.
Larsen, 58, a Danish-German socialite and businesswoman who lives in Monaco and England, was the unofficial partner of 84-year-old Juan Carlos for years, but the couple split amid increased media and public scrutiny in Spain.
Juan Carlos stepped down as king in 2014, allowing his son to become king Felipe VI.
The harassment claim was first issued back in December 2020, and involves the alleged behaviour of Juan Carlos during his relationship with Larsen and when the relationship ended in 2009.
It details accusations of surveillance and harassment, including a claim that the former monarch verbally threatened the businesswoman, and that a member of Spain’s security services also threatened her physical safety and that of her two children at her homes.
The background to the claim stems from when Juan Carlos met Larsen in Africa in 2004, when she was involved in organising safaris. The relationship developed romantically, and they remained lovers until 2009, remaining close friends for a while afterwards.
Their relationship only became public after an incident in Botswana in 2012, when Juan Carlos broke a hip in an elephant-hunting trip with Larsen.
In 2020, after Larsen and Juan Carlos became subjects of judicial investigations for opaque financial dealings, including assets kept in tax havens, she sued the former monarch, accusing him of allegedly orchestrating threats and ordering unlawful covert and overt surveillance starting in 2012.
The former monarch reportedly showered Larsen with gifts, even after they broke up. But the situation soured when she declined to rekindle the relationship, leading him to pursue a ‘pattern of conduct amounting to harassment’, it was alleged.
As well as threats, break-ins and surveillance, Juan Carlos ‘demanded the return of gifts’, and, she claimed, she suffered ‘trespass and criminal damage’ at her country home in England.
Larsen has since asked the court for a restraining order against Juan Carlos, as well as compensation for mental health treatment costs.
Robin Rathmell of Kobre & Kim, the law firm representing Larsen, said Thursday’s ruling demonstrated that Juan Carlos ‘cannot hide behind position, power, or privilege’ to avoid the lawsuit.
‘This is the first step on the road to justice; the appalling facts of this case will finally be brought before the court,’ Rathmell said in a statement.
Juan Carlos’ Spanish lawyers declined to comment on the London court’s ruling.
The former monarch has been based in the United Arab Emirates since 2020. He recently announced his desire to return to Spain for sporadic visits after prosecutors in Spain and Switzerland found no evidence of financial misbehaviour that would fall outside royal immunity laws.
Juan Carlos has retained the title of ‘king emeritus’ since he abdicated. Felipe has tried to shield his own reign from the scandals affecting his father and other members of the royal family.
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