Spain’s emeritus king Juan Carlos I to leave country amid tax haven scandal

The former monarch has told Felipe VI of his "well-considered decision" to move away from Spain after Swiss and Spanish prosecutors opened an investigation into allegations of financial irregularities

Emeritus king, Juan Carlos I, in January.
Emeritus king, Juan Carlos I, in January.José Oliva (Europa Press)
Miguel González

Spain’s emeritus king Juan Carlos I has informed his son, King Felipe VI, of his “well-considered decision to leave Spain,” and his residence at Zarzuela Palace, where he has lived for the last 58 years. The decision comes after Swiss and Spanish prosecutors opened an investigation into bank accounts allegedly held by Juan Carlos in tax havens.

Spanish King Juan Carlos meets Corinna Zu Sayn - Wittgenstein during the Laureus Award 2006 in Barcelona on 22 May 2006. | usage worldwide 
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The downfall of Spain’s Juan Carlos I
(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 06, 2018 Spain�s former King Juan Carlos I arrives to attend  commemorative acts marking the 40th anniversary of the Spanish Constitution at the parliament in Madrid on December 6, 2018. - The Spanish Royal House announced on August 2, 2020 that former king Juan Carlos will move out of Spain. The Spanish Supreme Court announced in June the opening of an investigation to establish whether former King Juan Carlos has criminal responsibility in an alleged corruption case when Saudi Arabia entrusted the construction of the Mecca TGV to a Spanish consortium. (Photo by CURTO DE LA TORRE / AFP)
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In a letter to his son released by the Royal Household, Juan Carlos writes that due to the “public impact” of the investigation, he has decided to leave Spain in order to enable Felipe VI to act as head of state from a place of “peace and tranquility.”

The complete letter reads:

“Your majesty, dear Felipe, with the same zeal to serve Spain that inspired by my reign and faced with the public impact that certain past actions of my private life is causing, I wish to show you my absolute willingness to contribute to helping the exercise of your functions from the peace and tranquility required of your high level of responsibility. My legacy, and my own dignity as a person, demands it.

“A year ago, I told you of my willingness and desire to stand down from my institutional activities. Now, guided by the conviction to provide the best service to Spaniards, its institutions and to you as King, I am informing you of my well-considered decision to move away from Spain.

“It is a decision I take, with deep feeling but great calm. I was king of Spain for 40 years and during all those years I have always wanted the best for Spain and the Crown.

“With my loyalty always.

“With great affection, you father.”

According to the press release from the Royal Household, Felipe VI has told his father of his “respect and appreciation” for the decision.

“The king wants to highlight the historical importance that his father’s reign represents, as a legacy, political work and institutional service to Spain and democracy; and also to reaffirm the principles and values that are founded in the framework of our Constitution and the rest of the legal system,” the press release concludes.Juan Carlos’ lawyer has said that although his client will no longer be in Spain, he will still be available to help the public prosecutor with its investigation in any way possible.

King Felipe VI of Spain (l) stands with his father Juan Carlos I and one of his daughters Princess Leonor in December.
King Felipe VI of Spain (l) stands with his father Juan Carlos I and one of his daughters Princess Leonor in December.JAIME REINA (AFP)

The news of the former king’s decision to leave Spain comes four months after Felipe VI announced on March 15 that he would renounce any future inheritance from his father that was connected with his foreign bank accounts. He also stripped Juan Carlos of his annual stipend of €194,232. Although King Felipe’s decision raised questions – an inheritance cannot be renounced until the benefactor has died – its meaning was clear: the king had broken ties with his father.

Juan Carlos’ problem began in the summer of 2018 when Swiss police officers, sent by the prosecutor Yves Bertossa, searched the offices of Geneva-based fund manager Arturo Fasana. In that search, Bertossa found records of two foundations with Swiss bank accounts: the Zagatka foundation, run by Álvaro de Oleans, a distant cousin of Juan Carlos, which paid for the private flights of the former monarch and his longtime friend Corinna Larsen; and the Panama-based foundation Lucum, which listed Juan Carlos I as the first beneficiary and Felipe VI as the second.

When this news became public in March 2020, King Felipe renounced his father’s inheritance and said that Corinna Larsen had sent a letter to Zarzuela Palace a year ago informing him that he and his two sisters had been named as beneficiaries of the Lucum foundation. The Royal Household decided to report this situation to the Spanish government, and to go to a notary to reject any money from these accounts.

Corinna Larsen in New York in 2016.
Corinna Larsen in New York in 2016.

The Swiss investigation revealed that on August 8, 2008, Arturo Fasana deposited $100 million (€64 million at the exchange rate of the time) into an account at the private bank Mirabaud. This money came from the finance minister of Saudi Arabia. Four years later, the funds were transferred by Juan Carlos, who was still Spain’s head of state (he did not abdicate until 2014), to a bank account in Nassau, in The Bahamas. The account in the bank Gonet & Cue was held by the company Solare, which is owned by Corinna Larsen. The Swiss prosecutor Bertossa froze the suspicious accounts and opened a secret money laundering investigation into those involved.

Juan Carlos is not yet under investigation, but Swiss prosecutors have not ruled out the possibility that he will be in the future. The information sent by Switzerland to Spanish judicial authorities has called into question the former monarch’s actions after June 2014, when he lost immunity from prosecution as Spain’s head of state. Although Juan Carlos no longer enjoys immunity, he is still aforado, meaning he enjoys protection from prosecution in the lower courts. At the beginning of June, Spain’s prosecutor general, Dolores Delgado, decided that prosecutors from the Supreme Court should investigate the case. This stage of the investigation must determine whether there is sufficient evidence that Juan Carlos committed a crime after his abdication. The probe is focused on two main areas: money laundering (the attempt to hide the illicit origin of money) and fiscal crime (defrauding the Tax Agency of more than €120,000).

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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