The steady flow of reports in the Spanish and foreign media regarding the supposed case of corruption involving former king Juan Carlos shows no sign of letting up, putting the Emeritus king —who retired from public life in June 2019— in an uncomfortable position. The most recent article, published by the Swiss newspaper Tribune de Genève this Wednesday, reveals that the current king’s father received $100m in commissions in connection with the contract for the high-speed railway line that joins Medina and Mecca. The money, a "gift" from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, was paid into a checking account at the Mirabaud Swiss Bank in the name of the Lucum Foundation, a Panamanian foundation whose sole beneficiary is Juan Carlos.
Yves Bertossa, the Swiss prosecutor who is leading the investigation, suspects the money was paid as a commission for services rendered. According to the former King’s confidante, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Juan Carlos I was paid the money following a last-minute, 30% discount in the cost of the high-speed train line. The German businesswoman spoke about the money in the recordings which were published in numerous Spanish newspapers in 2018. These also formed the basis of a series of investigations, firstly by the Spanish High Court, followed by the Swiss public ministry and subsequently the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office. The latter two are still on going, while Spain’s National Court dropped the case, having reached the conclusion that there was "no reasonable proof that a crime had been committed" and that, if anything untoward had occurred, it would have taken place when the king was "immune from prosecution".
According to the Swiss daily, the Spanish king withdrew sums of the Saudi money from the account in Geneva for several years up until 2012, when he gave part of what remained —some $65m— to Sayn-Wittgenstein [or Corinna as she is referred to in the Spanish media], who deposited the money in a subsidiary of another Swiss bank in the Bahamas. Her lawyers deny that the money constituted commission for services rendered. "In 2012 our client received an unsolicited sum from the King Emeritus, who regarded it as a kind of gift to her and her son, for whom he feels great affection". Meanwhile, the administrator of the former Spanish king's fortune maintains that the money paid to the Lucum Foundation was a gift to the king from King Abdullah, who died in January 2015.
The movements of these large sums of money between the various bank accounts are being investigated by the Swiss authorities as "suspected money laundering". As reported in El Confidencial this Monday, Swiss prosecutor Bertossa travelled to Spain last summer to interview judge Manuel García-Castellón, who was presiding over the case of the recordings at the National Court. According to the online newspaper, his intention was to obtain access to Corinna’s recordings where the businesswoman can be heard telling former police commissioner José Manuel Villarejo that the King Emeritus used her as a front to hide illegal funds abroad. García-Castellón referred Bertossa to the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, which is investigating the case of alleged commissions involving the high-speed train line in Saudi Arabia. So far the investigation has not been referred to a judge and the recordings have not been made available to the Swiss prosecutor.
Commissions for the sale of Banco Zaragozano
The recordings of Corinna’s conversations could also be important in other court cases. According to journalist Quim Aranda, Juan Carlos’ reputation could also be tarnished as a result of the sale of Banco Zaragozano to Barclays Bank in 2003. Documents obtained by The Sunday Telegraph several days ago showed that Juan Carlos’ cousin, Álvaro de Orleans-Bourbon, pocketed €46m as an intermediary in the disastrous operation —the British bank ended up leaving Spain in 2014 after losing some €4bn.
New information obtained by The Telegraph suggests that De Orleans-Bourbon, also under investigation by the Swiss prosecutor, set up an investment fund to handle the profits he received from serving as an intermediary between the shareholders of the two banks. Nevertheless, the National Securities Market Commission’s (CNMV) website —in which such proceedings ought to have been published, since Zaragozano was listed on the stock exchange— shows no record of the operation.
And where does Juan Carlos fit into all this? As Corinna admits in the notorious recordings, the monarch also held bank accounts in Switzerland in the name of his cousin. Speaking in an interview with El País on Monday, Orleans-Bourbon sought to defend himself by declaring that he is "not a strawman for anyone” and that he is "the sole owner" of all his assets. He went on to deny most of the information published in The Sunday Telegraph and also questioned the veracity of the recordings: "I asked him [the King Emeritus], ‘Do you have any idea where all this comes from?’ and he said he didn’t".