Spain royals ‘no longer untouchable’

A new tell-all book that details what led to Spanish king Juan Carlos giving up the throne would never have been published just a few years ago in a Spain still deferential to the royal family, experts said.

Spain royals 'no longer untouchable'
Photo: AFP

The volume spares no details on Carlos's 10-year relationship with a German mistress, an infamous elephant hunting debacle and Princess Cristina's upcoming trial in one of Spain's longest-running corruption scandals.

"It's not the king who has changed, it's self-censorship that has changed," said celebrity journalist Antonio Montero.

"Before people knew things and didn't reveal them, but now they are coming out," he added.

"Final de Partida" or "End Game", which debuted Tuesday and nearly sold out its 25,000 copies in 24 hours, comes less than a year after Juan Carlos stepped down in June 2014.

The 77-year-old royal had been off limits to critical reports because of his role in guiding Spain's transition to democracy following the death of longtime dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.

Juan Carlos became a symbol of stability in the country's young democracy.

"End Game" author Ana Romero instead shows a physically weakened sovereign, whose three children do not visit, "sitting on an empty couch in front of the TV".

Romero believes the acceptance of a tougher depiction of Juan Carlos stems from the influence of a more critical foreign press, which became accessible with the Internet's spread as well as the boom of social media and a string of royal scandals.

There was the 2012 photo of Juan Carlos posing with an elephant he killed on safari in Botswana at a time when Spain was grappling with record unemployment and risked needing an international bailout.

The ex-king's mistress Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who is 27 years his junior, was among those who accompanied him on the pricey trip.

Juan Carlos thought of divorcing his wife queen Sofia with whom "he had not been living for years," the book claims, though members of his entourage discouraged him from doing so.

The royal family declined to comment on the book.

In the 424-page volume, readers also get details of the scandal involving Corinna, 50, and her 46-year-old husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin.

They are facing trial in connection with the alleged embezzlement of about six million euros ($6.5 million) in Spanish public funds.

Romero, former royal correspondent for the El Mundo daily, describes the actual endgame of Juan Carlos's rule as a months-long push from some of his closest advisers worried about the damage he was doing by staying in power.

The book says those advisers included former Socialist prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, Spanish intelligence chief Felix Sanz Roldan and former royal family spokesman Rafael Spottorno.

Romero implied that she had felt pressure over the content of the book, but she said it was natural for people to be nervous about its impact. Democracy in Spain is still a work in progress, she said.

"We are still maturing and it is logical that certain people worry about what this book can reveal," she added.

While Juan Carlos is now fair game in the Spanish media, not all the taboos around tough reporting on the Spanish royals have fallen.

"Respect for the monarchy has not disappeared, it's (respect) for Juan Carlos," said journalist Fernando Cano, who covers the media. King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia "remain untouchable".

For Romero, another area still in need of illumination is the source of the royal family's fortune, for which there is no official data.

"We must investigate," she said.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


ANALYSIS: Does Spain’s former king’s tax deal help or harm the monarchy?

By settling a back tax bill, Spain's former king, Juan Carlos I, is trying to avoid an embarrassing lawsuit, but he has further dented the image of the monarchy and deepened tensions within the country's leftist coalition government.

ANALYSIS: Does Spain's former king's tax deal help or harm the monarchy?
Spain's former king, Juan Carlos I, agreed a €678,393 settlement. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP
His lawyer issued a two-paragraph statement on Wednesday night announcing that Juan Carlos, who fled into self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates in August, had “presented the fiscal authorities with a spontaneous
declaration” which “settled” a tax debt amounting to 678,393 euros ($821,453), including interest and fines.
The settlement is linked to a probe made public last month by Spain's attorney general into whether the scandal-hit former king used cards linked to accounts not registered in his name — which could constitute a possible money-laundering offence.
Judicial sources said they were looking into funds deposited in several Spanish bank accounts held by a Mexican businessman and a Spanish Air Force official, and whether they had been accessed by the 82-year-old former monarch.
The credit card payments took place after Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014, which could mean that he is not shielded by the immunity from prosecution he enjoyed as head of state.
It is the first time that Juan Carlos, who is already the target of two other investigations over his financial affairs, has acknowledged having withheld income from the tax office.
While the tax settlement reduces the risk of a lawsuit, it does “enormous damage” to the reputation of the monarchy, which was already tarnished by other affairs involving the once-popular former king, said political
consultant Euprepio Padula.
Royal debate
Prosecutors are also examining a Saudi high-speed rail contract that was won by a consortium of Spanish companies in 2011, seeking to establish whether the then-monarch was paid a commission.
According to Swiss daily La Tribune, the late Saudi king Abdullah deposited $100 million into a Swiss private bank in 2008 to which Juan Carlos had access, prompting suspicions it was a kickback for the contract which was awarded three years later.
Separately, prosecutors at Spain's Supreme Court announced in November that they had opened a preliminary investigation into the former king's business dealings following a report by the national anti-money laundering agency.
The prosecutor's office gave no further details.
A steady drip of revelations about the former king's love life and lavish lifestyle, combined with the 2018 conviction of his son-in-law for tax fraud and embezzlement, have severely tainted the monarchy.
The scandals have fuelled renewed criticism from far-left party Podemos, the junior partner in Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's minority coalition government.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias wrote recently in online newspaper Publico that there was a “growing debate” in Spain “over the usefulness of the monarchy”.
The party has governed in coalition with the Socialists since January. It is the first time that an anti-monarchy party is in power since Spain returned to democracy in the 1970s.
 'Not in danger'
Podemos on Friday once again called for a parliamentary inquiry into the business activities of the former king.
These requests have always been rejected in the past with the votes against from the Socialists, and parties on the right which ferociously defend the monarchy.
After the former king's tax settlement was announced, Sanchez said during a TV interview that the monarchy “is not in danger”.
Political consultant Padula said Juan Carlos' son, the current King Felipe VI, “should make a statement about this topic” to distance himself further from the former monarch.
Felipe already put an end to his father's palace allowance of nearly 200,000 euros per year and renounced his own inheritance in March.
Now that Juan Carlos has settled his tax bill, Spaniards are wondering if he will return to Spain for Christmas.
When asked, Sanchez said it was up to the palace to “comment on the possible return of the former king” who will celebrate his 83rd birthday on January 5.