The former King of Spain is facing the growing prospect of a trial for money laundering after allegations that a secret Swiss bank account was used to pay for his holiday in Tahiti.
Juan Carlos flew to the South Pacific island for a nine-day stay with four members of his security team in January 2016. In October 2015, £26,311 was transferred from a Swiss account to pay for the holiday, it is alleged by El Confidencial, an online newspaper.
The money, which was paid in sterling to a London travel agent through a third party, is said to have come from the Zagatka foundation, which was formed in Liechtenstein in 2003 by Juan Carlos’s cousin, Álvaro de Orleans y Borbón, and is under investigation by a Swiss prosecutor. The cousin has previously said that he had paid for several private flights for Juan Carlos from the fund, but denied that the former king had access to its money.
The allegation came as Swiss prosecutors are investigating multimillion-euro payments into offshore accounts linked to Juan Carlos, 82, and the source of a €65 million payment he made to his former mistress, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. The king abdicated in favour of his son, Felipe, in 2014 after a series of scandals.
In Spain public prosecutors announced last month that they were investigating whether there was enough evidence to start proceedings for money laundering and tax crimes against him over his alleged ties to suspected kickbacks for a contract to build a high-speed railway in Saudi Arabia in 2011.
It is a matter of legal debate in Spain, but it is thought by constitutional experts that Spanish investigators can only focus on the former king’s activities from 2014, when he lost his legal immunity on his abdication.
If the money used to pay for his holiday is linked to illegal funds, Juan Carlos may be tried in Spain for money laundering, legal experts say. “If the continuity of a crime is proved to have taken place after 2014, the case could be judged by the supreme court,” said José Luis Martí, a law professor at Pompeu Fabra University.
The allegations over Juan Carlos’s financial dealings have rocked the Spanish monarchy. In March they reached King Felipe when he was named as a beneficiary of two offshore funds under investigation in Switzerland. Felipe denied knowledge of the funds, announced that he was disinheriting himself from his father and stripped Juan Carlos of his stipend.
However, further allegations claiming that Juan Carlos ferried suitcases of cash back and forth from Switzerland and funded his family’s expenses have intensified calls for reform of the monarchy. Felipe has come under mounting pressure to eject Juan Carlos from Zarzuela Palace, the royal family’s residence in Madrid, and remove his title as the emeritus king.
This month Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister, described the allegations as “disturbing” and proposed discussing reforms that would limit the monarch’s immunity from prosecution.
A feud between the former king and Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein, neé Larsen, who had an affair with Juan Carlos in 2004-09, over how to deal with the crisis has led to a spate of leaks to the media revealing details of accounts and payments.
El Mundo reported that a letter from Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein’s legal team sent to the royal household declared that the two parties “are or ought to be aligned on these issues”. It apparently warned that if the royal household did not respond to their request to appoint a representative to discuss issues relating to the investigations in Spain and Switzerland, Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein “would have no choice but to set the record straight in the press and when she is called upon to give evidence under oath”.
In another letter published by El Mundo, Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein’s legal team stated that she had refused to return the €65 million “gift” when Juan Carlos asked for it back to “avoid potential accusations of financial misconduct”. He accused her of stealing it. She has accused him of mounting a campaign of harassment against her.
A Swiss prosecutor is investigating that money, which came from a donation by the late Saudi King Abdullah to Juan Carlos, to find out whether it is linked to the alleged payment of illegal commissions for the construction of the railway in Saudi Arabia by a Spanish consortium. Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein’s legal team has denied the claim.
The Times has asked the lawyers of Juan Carlos and Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein for comment.