How Spain aims to make its scandal-hit monarchy more transparent

Spain's leftist government and King Felipe VI have taken steps to boost the transparency of the monarchy, which has been tainted by financial scandals involving senior royals including his father, former monarch Juan Carlos.

How Spain aims to make its scandal-hit monarchy more transparent
King Felipe VI of Spain (2ndL), his wife Queen Letizia (L), their daughters Princess Sofia (front L) and Princess Leonor (front R), former King Juan Carlos I (2ndR) and his wife former Queen Sofia (R) pose before attending the traditional Easter Sunday Mass in 2018, one of the last public photos of Spain's Royal Family altogether. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

Under a decree passed Tuesday by socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government, the royal palace must publish its budget and make tenders public.

The palace accounts must be audited by the supreme Court of Auditors, while senior palace officials will have to declare their personal wealth both when they take up their post and when they leave.

Gifts given to royals will be catalogued before they are transferred to the state, donated to charity, or become property of the royal palace.

The measures, in line with those already in place at public institutions, were developed with the palace in recent months, minister for the presidency Felix Bolanos said.

“This is a very important step forward in the modernisation, in the exemplarity of the royal palace… a step forward on transparency,” he told a news conference after a weekly cabinet meeting.

“This is the step forward which citizens demanded from the royal palace… from the government,” he said.

The decree was passed a day after the palace unveiled Felipe’s personal wealth for the first time, saying it amounted to around €2.6 million ($2.8 million).

The bulk of the king’s personal wealth takes the form of checking or savings account deposits, with the rest made up of art, antiques and jewellery, the palace said.

His estate stems from his earnings as king, and before that as crown prince, it added.

(From L) Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, former Queen Sofía of Spain, former King Juan Carlos I, Spanish princess Leonor and princess Sofia, Spain´s Queen Letizia and Spain’s King Felipe VI arrive to attend commemorative acts marking the 40th anniversary of the Spanish Constitution at the parliament in Madrid on December 6, 2018. (Photo by CURTO DE LA TORRE / AFP)

Felipe ascended the throne in 2014 and set out to restore the monarchy’s prestige — after his father Juan Carlos abdicated against a backdrop of scandals over his finances and love life.

He ordered an audit of the royal household’s accounts and issued a “code of conduct” for its members.

The following year he stripped his older sister, Princess Cristina, of her title of duchess as she prepared to stand trial on tax fraud charges.

While she was ultimately cleared by the courts, her husband Iñaki Urdangarín was convicted of fraud and embezzlement.

Then in 2020 Felipe renounced any future personal inheritance he might receive from his father, and stripped him of his annual allowance of 200,000 euros ($213,000) after fresh details of his allegedly shady dealings emerged.

Months later Juan Carlos, a key figure in Spain’s transition to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, went into self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates.

Spanish prosecutors in March dropped three investigations into the finances of the former king, citing lack of evidence, the statute of limitations and the immunity he enjoyed as head of state.

But the prosecutor’s office nonetheless said it has detected several “fiscal irregularities” in his affairs.

The government said the measures unveiled Tuesday will bring the royal palace closer to the “highest standards of other European royal palaces”.

Conservative daily El Mundo said the measures will make it possible to “maintain rigorous and respectful control over the monarch’s heritage so the situations that undermined Juan Carlos’s reputation never happen again”.

But far-left party Podemos, the junior partner in Sanchez’s coalition government, said the measures were unlikely to bring about change.

“As long as the king retains his immunity, any make-up regarding the monarchy will have little effect,” said Pablo Echenique, the parliamentary spokesman for Podemos, which backs the abolition of the monarchy.

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Spain’s king slammed over plans to attend Qatar World Cup

The junior partner in Spain's leftist coalition government on Monday criticised King Felipe VI's plans to visit Qatar later this week to attend the Spanish team's opening World Cup match.

Spain's king slammed over plans to attend Qatar World Cup

Host of global football’s premier event, wealthy Qatar has come under heavy criticism over its treatment of foreign workers and its rights restrictions on women and the LGBTQ community.

The presence of top government representatives at the tournament which kicked off on Sunday has been the subject of fierce debate in several European nations.

Gerardo Pisarello, a lawmaker with the hard-left Podemos party, told a news conference that it was “unfortunate” to hear the Royal Palace announce the king would travel to Qatar without “making any critical objections about what is happening there”.

“We have certainly never had a football World Cup raising so many questions about human rights abuses since the 1978 World Cup in Argentina,” which was organized under a military dictatorship, he added.

Podemos is the junior partner in Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s coalition cabinet, which has governed Spain since January 2020.

It has long been critical of the monarchy, which it would like to see abolished.

Spain’s Royal Palace announced last week that the king would attend Spain’s opening match against Costa Rica on Wednesday.

Denmark has been one of the most vocal opponents of Qatar’s hosting of the tournament due to its human rights record.

Over the weekend, the Danish government announced that no ministers nor the Danish ambassador would attend the opening ceremony or any matches.