A king for a king
At the time of writing, the former King of Spain Juan Carlos I is holed up in the United Arab Emirates. The reason why he chose to head for the desert is simple enough: his latest and probably last flame – a Danish-German aristocrat called Corinna Larsen – was caught on tape confessing that Juan Carlos had received a backhander from a Saudi prince to the tune of 100 million dollars, for having facilitated the sale of a Spanish-made high speed rail link between Medina and Mecca. He squirreled away this tidy sum in a Swiss bank under the name of Lucum, a Panamanian shell company of which he is the sole beneficiary (if he dies, the loot will pass automatically to the current king, Philip VI). Then Swiss and UK media revealed that in 2012 Juan Carlos had slipped two million dollars of these monies to his long-term Majorcan lover, Marta Gayà; and no less than 65 million to Ms Larsen, who promptly put them into safekeeping for him in a Bahamas account. In 2010, it also turned out Juan Carlos had pocketed a gift of 1.9 million dollars from the dictatorial Sultan of Bahrain.
For a fortnight after this crowned grafter’s getaway, the Spanish government claimed not to have a clue as to his whereabouts, then said it only discovered them when His Majesty himself let them be known. Which is passing strange, if it is borne in mind that from the minute he first went on the lam, Juan Carlos was under the protection of a full corps of government-paid bodyguards.
All this (the tax dodging, the lovers, the absconding) has been reported in the international press, but with one endlessly repeated caveat: that we should remember it was this same lapsed Bourbon who saved Spanish democracy. As the London Guardian put it: ‘Juan Carlos played a pivotal role in restoring democracy to Spain …not least when he stood firm in the face of an attempted military coup in 1981.’ Well, not exactly. The first cracks in this saintly image of Juan Carlos I appeared in 2001, in a Basque-published biography by a journalist using the pseudonym Patrícia Sverlo (to ensure her personal safety). Sverlo claimed that Juan Carlos – convinced that Spain had become institutionally unstable, and concerned by perceived threats to its unity from Euskadi and Catalonia – decided to resolve everything with a staged coup followed by a coalition government headed by a military officer (who would be the King’s former aide, Alfonso Armada). This plan was not fully revealed to all the plotters, notably the coup’s frontman Antonio Tejero, who went off script and veered to the far right when he discovered the coalition would include Socialist and Communist MPs; some eight hours later, he was ordered to stand down by Juan Carlos. This version of events was backed up by the prestigious Catalan historian Josep Fontana in an article in El Temps magazine in 2004. In 2012, Der Spiegel published an account by the German ambassador to Madrid at the time, expressing his astonishment that Juan Carlos had told him ‘the coup is in defence of what most Spaniards want’. In 2018, Tejero himself wrote to the online magazine El Plural saying, among other things: ‘I have never denied my role in the [February 23, 1981] events, when I was under the orders of the King’.
A recent interview on the Vilaweb news site revealed that ‘Patrícia Sverlo’ is a Galician journalist called Rebeca Quintáns who has spent much of her professional life investigating the Spanish royal family, which she believes will soon have to throw in the towel. It’s impossible to tell if they’ll have done that by the time you read this; but at least we know that the erstwhile head of Spain’s armed forces is being hosted by a country in which flogging and stoning are legal punishments and which treats thousands of its migrant workers as slave labour. No worries there for Juan Carlos: a migrant he may be, but a worker he most definitely is not.