At a cabinet meeting in Madrid’s La Moncloa palace on August 4, PM Pedro Sánchez told his ministers that he had played no role in king Juan Carlos’ decision to leave Spain and he remarked that he didn’t approve of it at all. The Spanish PM felt that the former king’s decision to flee the country was a mistake and that the news would not be well received at all by the general public, besides having unwelcome repercussions abroad.
Right-wing political parties and many news outlets in Spain have claimed that Pedro Sánchez played a key role in the decision by King Felipe and his father to have the latter leave the country on August 3, an idea that had ben conceived six weeks earlier.
In an interview with Madrid daily El País a few days ago, Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo —until recently, the PP spokesperson in the Spanish parliament— stated that “King Juan Carlos shouldn’t have left and, instead, he should have been held to account by the Royal House itself and, indeed, by the Spanish people. Fleeing Spain is a mistake that is detrimental to his son, King Felipe. This suggests that the government has had a negative influence … Pedro Sánchez is using the monarchy for his own ends, which is indecent…”
Our sources have confirmed to this newspaper that the cabinet meeting of August 4, together with the lengthy one on 14 March (when the state of alarm was declared due to the Covid-19 pandemic), was one of the most relevant government meetings since the ministerial appointments were made in January.
A day earlier, on 3 August, Spain’s Royal Palace had released a statement informing the public —as per the former king’s request— about Juan Carlos’ “well thought-through decision to move overseas for now”. According to the statement, the reason for the former king’s departure was “the public repercussions brought on by certain past events to do with my private life” and his “complete willingness to facilitate the exercise of the office of king by Felipe VI”, [his son].
The letter was circulated once the king emeritus had landed in Abu Dhabi, on an invitation from his friend Mohammed Bin Zayed, the heir to the throne of the United Arab Emirates. Juan Carlos had already checked into the government-owned Emirates Palace Hotel. This newspaper has learnt that the former king’s departure was the subject of a lengthy discussion by the cabinet before the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, spoke to voice his own views on the matter. The Unidas Podemos cabinet ministers, including VP Pablo Iglesias —who was unaware of the king’s decision— were critical of the move, which they predicted would be seen as a flight when, in actual fact, Juan Carlos isn’t facing any charges. They also noted that it would damage King Felipe’s reputation.
This newspaper can confirm that, in turn, the PSOE ministers focused on the historical relevance of King Juan Carlos and the need to distinguish between the father and his son, the current king. For his part, Justice Minister Juan Carlos Campo explained that the former king wasn’t evading justice or fleeing the country because he had not been charged with any crimes and, furthermore, the king’s lawyer had issued a statement saying that his client would appear in court, if asked to.
Our sources emphasise that the ministers who criticised the former king’s move didn’t imply that he was evading justice —“nothing further from that”— but they objected to the way he had chosen not to face the music and take responsibility for his actions.
The sources we have spoken to claim that the surprise came at the end of the exchange of ideas and opinions —some female PSOE ministers chose not to speak at all— when the PM said that he hadn’t been involved in the decision taken between King Felipe and his father and, furthermore, he didn’t approve of it because he felt it wasn’t a good call for anybody: not for King Felipe, not for Juan Carlos and not for Sánchez’s government.
The PM’s words were in contrast with most of his own party’s ministers, who had not spoken about the decision to leave Spain “for now” and instead highlighted the former king’s merits and the 1978 constitutional pact. Pedro Sánchez’s words zeroed in on the decision to leave and made it very clear that he most disappointed.
Some sources indicate that, while the PM knew of the decision taken by the royals, he didn’t try to justify his choice to conceal the information from his second vice president, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias. If anything, our sources claim that Sánchez did quite the opposite.
The former king’s departure from Spain means that the case currently being probed by Geneva Prosecutor Yves Bertossa has made headlines across the world. The Swiss Prosecutor has been probing a possible major money laundering crime since July/August 2018 where King Juan Carlos is hypothetically involved. In August 2008 the ministry of finance of Saudi Arabia transferred $100 million to a bank account held by Lucum, a Panama-based foundation whose top beneficiary was Juan Carlos, followed by then-heir Felipe.
After being asked to enter into a negotiation by the lawyers of his father’s former mistress, Corinna Larsen, King Felipe issued a a statement on 15 March claiming no prior knowledge of the Lucum Foundation or the fact that he was listed as a beneficiary. Furthermore, he announced that he would renounce the estate of his father, King Juan Carlos. For the money laundering indictment to stand, Bertossa needs evidence of an earlier crime. In other words, he needs to prove that the funds were a graft payment or the purchase of a favour in the public tender for a Saudi government contract to build a fast railway service between Medina and Mecca. The Saudi-Spanish joint venture that was awarded the €7 billion contract lowered its bid by 30 per cent in order to outbid their French competitor and win the contract. Prosecutor Bertossa has indicted two Swiss nationals, Arturo Fasana and Dante Canonica, who used to represent Juan Carlos in the Lucum Foundation, his former mistress Corina zu Sayn-Wittgenstein —nowadays known as Corinna Larsen— and a company, the Mirabaud bank where the cash was initially deposited and later shifted to investments between 2008 and 2012. Corinna Larsen was the first person to mention the king’s Swiss accounts in her conversations with former police commissioner José Villarejo, who has been in prison since 3 November 2017. In 2012 Juan Carlos shut down his foundation and closed the bank account, making “an irrevocable donation” to Corinna to the tune of $100 million. According to her, Juan Carlos later tried to get the cash back.
For his part, Spain’s Supreme Court Prosecutor is investigating alleged crimes committed by Juan Carlos after June 2014, when the monarch abdicated the throne, thus losing the immunity afforded to the king of Spain by Article 56.3 of the Constitution. A formal information request was sent to Bertossa by Spain’s anti-corruption Prosecutor in February this year and they are awaiting an answer.
Starting on August 3, Juan Carlos’ departure operation has been the subject of articles and news reports all over the world. On Monday 17 August it was officially confirmed that the former king is staying in Abu Dhabi. The story has made the front pages of newspapers and online news outlets the world over, once it was confirmed by the Royal House, nine days after a photo of Juan Carlos was published showing the former king stepping off a private jet that had just landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Last Monday, on the royals’ last day of their week-long summer holiday in Mallorca, while the royal family was having a stroll, a local resident asked King Felipe’s wife, Letizia: “when do you intend to tell us where the former king is?”