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Thoughts from Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

TfG: 18 June 2020
18 June 2020 @ 09:43

 Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'* 

  • The Spanish government - doubtless as part of its fight against the country's enormous tax-light black economy - is said to be planing to eliminate cash, in favour of bank cards. I can't see it happening any time soon, especially as it would be contrary to current EU law.
  • A Spanish archaeologist who perpetrated a huge fraud/'joke' back in 2006 has just been sentenced to (theoretical) jail, 14 years later. 
  • HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for news of this Irish film about an exceptional Spanish sea captain.
  • And another HT for this gem: The president of the UCAM (Catholic university in Murcia) is sure that the Covid-19 is the work of "the antichrist" and that Bill Gates and Soros are "Slaves of Satan". Possibly a Vox voter.
  • See below for an article on the (alleged) corruption of Spain's ex king. This week a proposal from the far-left Podemos party the he be subjected to a governmental inquiry has been rejected by all the other parties, including Podemos's coalition partner, the PSOE.  
  • If you live here - or own a holiday property here - you can be sure your taxes are going to rise. Though perhaps not if you're a large company, as you'll have better tax advisers. And more influence at court.


The Way of the World

  • The UK football team, Arsenal, is  is offering to triple Thomas Partey’s wages to £195k a week to persuade him to move from Atlético Madrid.


  • Another 3 refranes:-

- A rolling stone gathers no moss: Hombre de muchos oficios, pobre seguro.
- A miss is as good as a mile: De casi, no se muere nadie.
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder: La ausencia es al amor lo que al fuego el aire; que apaga el pequeño y aviva el grande.
More tomorrow.

Sex, lies and Swiss bank accounts — the allegations against Spain’s ex-king that are rocking his son’s reign. The former king of Spain Juan Carlos is facing a storm of allegations over his financial dealings and his private life. Now his son, King Felipe VI, is fighting to preserve the monarchy.
Isambard Wilkinson. The Times

Breakfast at Zarzuela Palace, where the Spanish royal family reside on the outskirts of Madrid, must be a tense affair these days. With Juan Carlos, the former king, facing a storm of allegations over his financial dealings, the ruling Bourbon clan may dread the morning papers.

This year a series of reports have linked Juan Carlos, 82, who abdicated after a series of scandals in 2014, with multimillion-euro payments into offshore accounts. Swiss prosecutors are investigating them and the source of a €65 million payment he made to his former mistress, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein.

As more allegations emerge about secret accounts and funds, the royal household fear their patriarch may end up in the dock. In March his son, King Felipe VI, 52, disinherited himself and cut Juan Carlos’s annual stipend in an apparent bid to buffer the crown from the allegations.

The corruption claims have stoked republican sentiment. Felipe, helped by Queen Letizia, his wife, a former television journalist, is fighting to save the monarchy’s reputation. Speculation is rife in Madrid that Juan Carlos may flee Spain to save his son further embarrassment.

Tensions are running high at Zarzuela, where the king and queen and their two young daughters, the princesses Leonor and Sofía, live with Juan Carlos and his wife, Sofía, the former queen. The former king’s fate hangs in the balance.

“The king has had to put a formal distance between himself and his father,” said a source close to the palace. “But Juan Carlos needs his son to try to limit the damage done to him.”

The family and Juan Carlos himself may well be ruing his affair with the 56-year-old Sayn-Wittgenstein. The former lovers are now engaged in a bitter feud, with allegations of harassment and leaks over alleged links to offshore funds further tarnishing his name and endangering the monarchy.

They met at the Duke of Westminster’s shooting estate in Spain in 2004 when she was still married to Casimir zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a Bavarian prince. The businesswoman, who was born into a middle-class German-Danish family and baptised Corinna Larsen, was divorced soon after. Her affair with Juan Carlos is reported to have lasted from 2004 until 2010.

King Juan Carlos and his son, Prince Felipe, in 1977GETTY IMAGES

However, the mutual fascination seems to have outlasted their “formal” relationship. In 2012 Juan Carlos invited her and her son on an elephant hunt to Botswana. She accepted, her public relations representatives say, because her son had formed a bond with the king.

The trip was to prove the king’s undoing. Juan Carlos fell, injuring himself. The media caught wind of it after he had to be flown home to Madrid for an emergency hip-replacement. The Spanish press, breaking the taboo of printing Juan Carlos’s reported affairs, published photos of Sayn-Wittgenstein. The holiday came in the middle of an economic crisis. The press castigated the king for his excess.

It also came as Iñaki Urdangarín, his son-in-law, was under investigation for corruption. The reporting of Juan Carlos’s affair with Sayn-Wittgenstein and his family’s financial dealings led to him abdicating in favour of Felipe in 2014.

Felipe came to the throne with the aim of restoring the crown’s reputation. Immediately he set about trying to fireproof it from any fallout from the investigation into Urdangarín, the husband of Princess Cristina, his sister. He stripped them of their ducal title and withdrew royal duties from Cristina and his other sister, Princess Elena.

In 2018 Urdangarín was sentenced to serve nearly six years in jail for crimes including tax fraud and embezzlement. Princess Cristina, who now lives in Geneva with their four children, was acquitted of being an accessory to tax fraud after a year-long trial.

Felipe also made attempts to make the royal household more transparent. Well educated, formal and reserved, a very different character from his back-slapping and jocular father, Felipe decreed that his family could not accept “gifts that exceed the usual uses, social or courtesy”.

Deemed to be more like his mother, Sofía, the former queen, to whom he is very close, Felipe was once criticised as being too aloof and Germanic. Now the mother and son’s moderation is seen as a prized asset.

But his father’s legacy has returned to haunt him. In 2018 recordings emerged of a conversation between Sayn-Wittgenstein and a former Spanish police officer taped three years earlier. In the tapes she alleges that Juan Carlos had asked for a share of a secret €80 million payment by Spanish businesses to win a deal to build a high-speed AVE rail line in Saudi Arabia in 2011. She also alleges that the former king and his cousin, Álvaro de Orleans y Borbón, tried to use her to hide assets abroad.

In March this year Switzerland’s La Tribune de Genève newspaper reported that in 2008 Juan Carlos allegedly received $100 million from Saudi Arabia’s king. It also reported that he gave $65 million to Sayn-Wittgenstein in 2012, months after the Botswana elephant hunt.

A Swiss prosecutor is investigating whether the Saudi donation (€65 million at the exchange rate at the time), which was banked in a Geneva account held by Lucum, a Panamanian-registered foundation, was linked to the alleged payment of illegal commissions for the construction of the high-speed railway in Saudi Arabia by a Spanish consortium.

The prosecutor is also investigating the origin of the bank transfer made by Juan Carlos to Sayn-Wittgenstein. Robin Rathmell, her lawyer, denied the payment was related to the AVE deal. “In 2012 our client received an unsolicited gift from the king emeritus who described it as a form of endowment for her and her son of whom he had become fond,” he said. “It followed several years of ill health when our client cared for him.”

Leaks to newspapers revealed that Juan Carlos was named as a beneficiary of the multimillion-euro Zagatka foundation, which was formed in Liechtenstein in 2003 by Orleans y Borbón. His cousin told El País newspaper that he had paid for several private flights for him, but denied that the former king had access to the foundation’s money.

Then the leaks targeted the king himself, revealing that Felipe was named as a beneficiary in the event of his father’s death to both the Zagatka and Lucum foundations. Immediately, Felipe announced that he was disinheriting himself from his father and stripped him of his stipend.

But the king’s statement raised several questions. Felipe said he had been made aware of the Lucum fund in a letter from Sayn-Wittgenstein’s lawyers last year and had sworn in front of a notary that he did not want to be its beneficiary. Why, critics asked, had he not informed the courts?

The letter to the palace, sent in March 2019, also pointed to offstage negotiations between the feuding ex-lovers. The source close to the royal family describes the letter as “blackmail intended to put pressure on the monarchy to try to make sure Sayn-Wittgenstein does not face money laundering charges”.

Her lawyer denied that “improper demands (financial or otherwise) have ever been made of the royal household”. He added that the letter requested “a good faith dialogue in the context of the campaign of abuse being waged against our client which has led to her being dragged into Swiss proceedings”.

Unknown to the public at the time, it appears that the letter had prompted Juan Carlos to withdraw completely from public life. It also led him to travel to London to share an amicable lunch with Sayn-Wittgenstein at her home in an attempt to resolve their differences. But despite the meeting, the feud worsened.

Sayn-Wittgenstein, who declined a request for an interview, alleges that in 2012 Spain’s intelligence chief ordered private security guards to take over her apartment and office in Monaco. The aim, she says, was to take control of documents about personal and business matters relating to Juan Carlos and other members of his family, which she has taken to London, where she lives.

Her lawyers are now threatening to bring a case with as yet unspecified accusations against Juan Carlos in London.

In Spain, so far parliament has blocked demands for an inquiry made by members of left-wing and regional parties along with the far-left Podemos, which governs with the Socialist party. But further allegations of financial impropriety have emerged suggesting that Juan Carlos allegedly received a $1.9 million donation from the king of Bahrain, which he carried in banknotes in a briefcase to Switzerland.

The payment from Bahrain was paid into the same account as a donation from Saudi Arabia of $100 million. A Spanish judicial probe into the Saudi payment has been announced. Constitutionally a monarch cannot be prosecuted, but debate is focused on whether that can be overridden in the courts or whether Juan Carlos could face charges for any alleged crime committed after his abdication.

The present woes of Juan Carlos are a far cry from the heady days of his popularity when his stock was still high from his handling of the transition from dictatorship to democracy.

The choice made by Juan Carlos to reside at Zarzuela reflects the modest tone of the early days of his rule. A former royal hunting lodge set in El Pardo national park, it was badly damaged during the civil war, but was restored for Juan Carlos to move in with his new bride Sofia in 1962.

That was during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who groomed Juan Carlos for power. Born in exile in Italy, where his grandfather Alfonso XIII fled in 1931, Juan Carlos was sent to Spain aged nine on his own to start his education under Franco as part of attempts by his father to restore the monarchy.

After Franco’s death in 1975 Juan Carlos helped to restore both the monarchy and democracy. Initially, conscious of Spaniards’ intolerance of royal excess, he set a low-profile tone. He remained at Zarzuela rather than move to the vast Royal Palace in central Madrid, a contrast to Franco, who had resided at the far grander Royal Palace of El Pardo.

In 1981 Juan Carlos won international acclaim when he faced down a military coup. He informed one of its leaders he would not leave Spain and that for them to succeed the rebels would have to shoot him.

He subsequently built an enormous amount of goodwill as an ambassador-at-large winning Spain state contracts abroad. But this stockpile dwindled throughout the 1990s as his association with a cabal of businessmen and absolute monarchs in the Gulf and his reported amorous exploits began to overshadow his reputation.

Now the scandals over Swiss bank accounts, secret foundations and untaxed multimillion-euro payments may force him to face trial or leave the country.

And the monarchy has been tainted. A televised address to the nation in March by Felipe, intended to unite a country in the grip of coronavirus, instead drew protests, with people banging pots and pans from balconies to express their anger over the alleged corruption.

Moderate critics of the monarchy contend that for the institution to survive it must be subject to sweeping reforms to introduce greater transparency over its finances and end the king’s immunity against prosecution, which would require changing the constitution.

“The strategy of the royal household, which seeks to protect the son by sacrificing the Bourbon patriarch, is doomed to failure,” said David Jiménez, a prominent commentator and former newspaper editor. He added that once the reforms are enacted, the monarchy should be put to a referendum.

But loyalists are optimistic for the monarchy’s survival, pointing out the social work done by the king and Queen Letizia and the increasingly public profile of the photogenic and modern young princesses.

“Felipe managed to fully restore the popularity of the monarchy on coming to the throne and now it’s threatened again,” said Ramón Pérez-Maura, an aristocrat and executive editor of ABC, a conservative newspaper. “But it will survive this crisis because Felipe is proving its usefulness.”

However, at Zarzuela Palace all eyes are on prosecutors in Switzerland and Spain, and of course on Juan Carlos’s former mistress, Sayn-Wittgenstein.

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

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