SPANISH ROYALS

Spanish government applauds king’s reaction to financial scandal, but supports judicial probe

Unidas Podemos and regional parties want a congressional inquiry into alleged Swiss bank accounts tied to Felipe VI’s father Juan Carlos I

Felipe VI and Juan Carlos I during a military ceremony on January 6, 2018.
Felipe VI and Juan Carlos I during a military ceremony on January 6, 2018.JUANJO MARTIN / AFP

The Spanish government applauded on Monday King Felipe VI’s decision to relinquish any future inheritance from his father Juan Carlos I, and to strip the latter of his annual stipend over alleged financial irregularities.

Like most other political parties in Spain, the Socialist Party (PSOE) – which heads a government coalition with the leftist group Unidas Podemos – has backed an investigation into the origin of the money allegedly held by Juan Carlos in Switzerland.

Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, and anti-corruption prosecutors have been waiting for three months for the Swiss justice system to relay information about an alleged bank account and the $100 million (€88 million) that were reportedly deposited in it as a payment from Saudi Arabia. Swiss prosecutors are investigating this account on suspicion of kickback payments for the contract to build the AVE high-speed rail link to Mecca, as EL PAÍS recently revealed.

“This country evidently needs to know. This is a transparent country that needs to keep trusting its institutions,” said Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

Regional nationalist parties issued highly critical statements, calling the recent developments “a full-fledged confession” from the royal household, in the words of Gabriel Rufián, the congressional spokesperson for the Catalan Republican Left (ERC).

Congressional inquiry

Several regional parties as well as Unidas Podemos said they will try to reactivate a motion to create a congressional investigative committee on the emeritus king, who abdicated in 2014 and has retired from public life. A week ago, a similar initiative was voted down by the Speakers’ Committee, the governing board of Spain’s Congress of Deputies.

The initiative is being spearheaded by Podemos and the ERC, a separatist Catalan party with 13 lawmakers in Spain’s lower house whose abstention was instrumental in getting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed in office following the repeat election of November 2019.

The move is backed by other regional and nationalist groups, including Más País (More Country), the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), Together for Catalunya (JxCat), EH Bildu, Compromís, the anti-capitalist CUP and the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG). These groups have decided to “start working together to find effective avenues of investigation into the news about the royal household,” said Rufián.

However, proponents of this new motion agreed that the move will be placed on hold until a more opportune moment, given that Spain is currently in the grip of an escalating health crisis due to the spread of the new coronavirus.

“Nothing is going to distract us from the battle against the health, social and economic challenges of Covid-19,” said Unidas Podemos in a statement on Sunday, shortly after the royal household issued its own release. “Still, the recent news about Juan Carlos de Borbón and the royal household’s statement are extraordinarily serious. At the right time, this matter will require full accountability and the corresponding parliamentary investigation.”

The spokesperson for the Basque party PNV, Aitor Esteban, made similar statements. “Right now all our efforts are focused on overcoming the coronavirus crisis, but we cannot ignore what’s going on with the royal household and the head of state, which is very serious,” he said. “We will need to clarify everything, and at the very least change the laws that prevent shedding transparency on his activities.”

Zagatka and Lucum

In a statement released on Sunday, the royal household said that Felipe VI had no knowledge of his alleged designation as a beneficiary of the Zagatka Foundation. This entity is owned by Álvaro de Orleans, a cousin of Juan Carlos I, and it paid for many of the former king’s trips on private aircraft. EL PAÍS revealed that Juan Carlos I is also named as the third beneficiary of this foundation. Zagatka was created in Liechtenstein on October 1, 2003 and it opened an account in the Swiss bank Crédit Suisse. The money in this account paid for dozens of Juan Carlos’ private trips over 11 years.

The royal statement did admit knowledge about a news story published a year ago by The Telegraph that named Felipe VI as the second beneficiary of another foundation named Lucum, and went on to explain the steps taken since then to make it clear that the monarch had no ties to the foundation. Lucum that has an account open with the Swiss lender Mirabaud. This account, and the $100 million (€88 million) that was deposited in it, are also being investigated by the Swiss prosecutor Yves Bertossa on suspicion of kickback payments for the contract to build the AVE high-speed rail link to Mecca.

In 2012, around $65 million (€57 million) were transferred from this account to Corinna Larsen, a Monaco-based businesswoman described as an old friend of Juan Carlos. Larsen has told investigators that the money was a donation from the former monarch, whom Swiss prosecutors name as the first beneficiary of the Mirabaud account. In Spain, High Court Judge Manuel García Castellón and anti-corruption prosecutors are investigating these alleged payments.

The Spanish justice system has sent Swiss authorities all the information it has on the alleged commissions on the AVE project, but Swiss prosecutors have yet to send any information to Madrid, citing bureaucratic problems.

English version by Susana Urra.