THE OBSERVER

Follow the money

Follow the money / MARI FOUZ

We were taught that if you wanted to get to the bottom of a great story, you had to “follow the money”. That’s what Deep Throat told Robert Redford in a seedy Washington car park at two o’clock in the morning in All the President's Men. In actual fact, Mark Felt —the Deputy Director of the FBI who provided the Washington Post reporters with the crucial leads— didn’t have such a flair for well-rounded sentences, but he guided Bob Woodward until the Post journalist realised that the key to the Watergate scandal was that the cash payments made to the team that broke into the HQ of the Democratic National Committee came from the Nixon campaign. Tracing the source of the cash led them to the mastermind of the GOP’s clandestine op and uncovered the White House tapes that proved Nixon’s attempt to cover up the scandal and exposed Tricky Dick’s narcissism.

As ever, reality is far less glamorous than the movie, but the motto “follow the money” —together with “cherchez la femme”, or the man, I guess— still work when you are following a lead to unravel the knots of corrupt power in the US and in Spain. Today Spain’s monarchy is being threatened by business deals and feelings, following the scandal caused by King Juan Carlos’ conduct and the ambition of his mistress, Corinna Larsen, something which historian Paul Preston refers to as the “Lady Macbeth effect”. Juan Carlos’ private life is a combination of Shakespeare drama and comic opera, but it could potentially destroy his successor, King Felipe.

Renouncing the legacy

From what we know today, Juan Carlos has ruined the work of a lifetime: to secure the continuity of Spain’s monarchy beyond him. After being appointed head of state by General Franco, thus fulfilling his father’s dream, and having persuaded the less enthusiastic supporters of the monarchy to stand by him, both in government and in the streets, his reign came to an abrupt end and every day the future of King Felipe is looking increasingly precarious, despite the king’s express PR visits to the Spanish provinces.

It is not that Spain has become republican —unlike 70 per cent of the Catalan people. Rather, the King Emeritus has dishonoured himself and has torpedoed the monarchy’s constitutional role —one that is purely symbolic— with every revelation from his mistress about Juan Carlos’ shady business dealings.

Today ARA publishes a special report on the scandal of Juan Carlos’ money stashed away in a Swiss bank account and Corinna Larsen’s role in the transfer of the cash, which the King Emeritus tried to get back after having “gifted” it to his mistress, something that he had made clear. Larsen’s London lawyers have spoken to our reporter, Quim Aranda, about the ongoing harassment that their client has been subjected to. Her ties to former police superintendent Villarejo, currently in jail, promise new entertaining episodes that might have major political consequences. Larsen has no intention of giving up her gold pot or being convicted for providing her royal lover with a front.

Our dossier provides insight into Juan Carlos’ own feelings of impunity afforded by the monarch’s constitutional immunity and the acquiescence of Spain’s king-friendly media and a whole generation of political leaders. So much so that he has jeopardised the very institution he helped to restore thanks to General Franco, the Spanish dictator.

The limits of diplomacy

The man who used to represent Spanish diplomacy before the various royal families mistook the state coffers with his own. Juan Carlos himself is quoted admitting the risks involved in José Luis de Villalonga’s El Rey: “Let me put it this way: I exert a modicum of influence, but I am very prudent about it, because in my case the boundaries are dangerously blurry”. And then he added that “Sometimes my prestige is at stake … An Arab head of state might call me and ask me to convey a message to the King of Morocco. It happened a lot during the Gulf War”.

Reading our interview with Paul Preston today, you could conclude that, at one point, the King Emeritus decided to “cash in the chips” from the the services rendered to Spain and the crown. When involvement in the public sphere is understood as a sacrifice or it lasts (nearly) a lifetime, eventually it provides self-justification for corruption and abuse of power. Is thinking yourself untouchable an evil that is exclusive to monarchs? It isn’t. It doesn’t apply just to Juan Carlos, but to all politicians who confuse their public office with personal ownership over public assets, seeing themselves as irreplaceable figures and turning into leaders who resemble a messiah more than a public servant.

This brings back an old Catalan oath of fealty to the king: “We, who are as worthy as Thou, pledge our allegiance to Thee and accept Thee as our King, provided Thou uphold our laws and liberties”. Today the pact between the Spanish and their crown is more obsolete than ever.