Ex-king’s former lover says Spain spy chief threatened her life

The ex-lover of Spain's king emeritus testified Friday that her life had been threatened by a former spy chief on orders from the exiled monarch himself in a conversation that "terrified" her.

Ex-king's former lover says Spain spy chief threatened her life
Photos: AFP/Wikipedia

The explosive testimony by German-born business consultant Corinna Larsen emerged during the trial of a notorious retired police chief suspected of large-scale corruption whose revelations have shaken Spain's elite.

Speaking to a court in Madrid by video conference from London, Larsen — who also uses the surname zu Sayn Wittgenstein — said she had been directly threatened in May 2012 by General Felix Sanz Roldan, who served as head of Spain's CNI intelligence services between 2009 and 2019.    

And she testified that the orders had ultimately come from the then monarch, Juan Carlos I.

During her affair with the king, which ended in 2012, two years before his abdication, Larsen said she received sensitive documents about the “financial and business dealings” of the king and the royal household, which the security services wanted to get hold of.   

Testifying in court, she said Sanz Roldan had contacted her on several occasions to make clear that until she handed over the documents, she would not be safe, threatening both her and her children in a meeting at London's Connaught Hotel on May 5, 2012.    

“The general was saying various conditions and instructions, recommendations that I should follow. And he said unless I followed them, he could not guarantee my physical safety or the physical safety of my children,” she told the court, saying his words “terrified me.”

Feared for her safety

She said the meeting had been “organised at the express wish” of the king himself.

“King Juan Carlos and General Sanz Roldan always took great pains to explain that the king was commanding the general to carry out these operations so that's an important fact to note, that these instructions came from the top.”

Later that day, she flew to Switzerland and on entering the family apartment in the Alps, found a book about Lady Diana's 1997 death in a high-speed car crash in a Paris tunnel.

Several hours later, during the night, she said she received an anonymous call in Spanish saying: “There are many tunnels between Monaco and Nice.” Larsen has been a resident of Monaco since 2008.

“This hit home the reality of the threats and the danger I found myself in.”    Asked by the prosecution why she had not come forward before now, Larsen said she feared for her own safety given that both Sanz Roldan and the king benefited from diplomatic immunity.   

“Denouncing General Sanz Roldan, who is a secretary of state and has full immunity, I would have had to denounce the king of Spain himself as the person giving these orders and he was covered by immunity,” she said.

“We did not think that the police in London could actually help me or protect me.”

Larsen was testifying at the trial of former police chief Jose Manuel Villarejo, who is in the dock on charges of making a false allegation and slander for saying Sanz Roldan had threatened to kill Larsen in an interview published in June 2017.

Larsen met Villarejo at her home in London in April 2015, where she told him about the threats in a conversation which he recorded without her knowledge or consent.


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‘Alone and bored’: A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain’s ex-king

A year after Spain's former King Juan Carlos went into self-imposed exile in the face of mounting questions over his finances, he remains under a cloud of suspicion that complicates his return home.

'Alone and bored': A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain's ex-king
Juan Carlos I's close ties with Gulf leaders have allowed him to live in opulent exile in Abu Dhabi for a year. Photo: KARIM SAHIB / AFP

He announced on August 3, 2020 he was moving abroad to prevent his personal affairs from undermining his son King Felipe VI’s reign and sullying the monarchy.

But his choice of new home — the United Arab Emirates, where some of his business affairs triggered the scandals that tainted his reputation in the first place — only raised Spaniards’ eyebrows further.

Juan Carlos has told his son that he would like to return to Spain “but he won’t come back without the approval” of the royal household, said Jose Apezarena, the author of several books on Felipe.

And the position of the royals is that “until his legal problems end, he should not return”, Apezarena told AFP.

The 83-year-old former king is the target of three separate investigations over his financial dealings, including those linked to a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia that was awarded to a Spanish consortium.

Prosecutors in Spain and Switzerland are looking into suspicions he received kickbacks for facilitating the deal.

The suspicions centre on $100 million (€85 million) that Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah allegedly deposited in 2008 into a Swiss bank account to which Juan Carlos had access.

The other two investigations concern the alleged existence of a trust fund in Jersey linked to Juan Carlos and the undeclared use of credit cards linked to accounts not registered in his name, a possible money-laundering offence.

‘Very bored’

Spanish monarchs have immunity during their reign but Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 following a series of health problems and embarrassing revelations about his personal life, leaving himself vulnerable to prosecution.

While he has not been charged with any crime, the probes have tainted his reputation as a leader of Spain’s democratic transition following the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Outside of the Royal Palace in central Madrid, opinions were divided.

“He is being judged without any evidence, he should be able to come home if that’s what he wants,” said Pura Fernandez, 46, a bank worker.

But delivery rider Angel Galan, 27, was less sympathetic.

“He may have done some great things for Spain but if he committed irregularities I am not sad that he is gone,” he said.

While in exile, Juan Carlos has twice settled tax debts with Spanish authorities for a total of more than €5 million.

But he has otherwise kept a low profile at the villa on the island of Nurai off the coast of Abu Dhabi where he now lives.

“He is alone and very bored,” said Apezarena.


‘Not normal’

When reports emerged in February that Juan Carlos was in poor heath, the former monarch told online Spanish daily OKDiario he was “well, exercising two hours daily” in his only comments to the media since moving abroad.

Abel Hernández, a journalist and expert on the monarchy, said he believes Juan Carlos will return to Spain by the end of the year.

“He has not been charged with anything and has regularised his situation with the tax office. It does not seem normal that he remains outside of the country,” Hernández told AFP.

The scandals swirling around Juan Carlos have provided ammunition for those wanting to abolish the monarchy.

The far-left party Podemos, which is the junior partner in Spain’s coalition government, has called for a parliamentary investigation into Juan Carlos’s wealth.

Felipe, meanwhile, has sought to distance himself from his father.

Last year the king renounced his inheritance from Juan Carlos, and stripped the ex-monarch of his palace allowance after new details of his allegedly shady dealings emerged.

Polls show support for the monarchy has inched up since Juan Carlos moved abroad although a survey published Sunday in conservative daily La Razon found 42.9 percent of Spaniards feel Juan Carlos’s legal woes were hurting Felipe’s reign.