'Greed is the wrecking-ball that has left the Spanish monarchy teetering on the edge'

Matthew Bell shares the inside story of the many scandals surrounding the Spanish royals - but can they be saved?

(L-R) King Felipe VI of Spain, Princess Sofia of Spain, Queen Sofia, Princess Leonor of Spain, Queen Letizia of Spain and King Juan Carlos 
(L-R) King Felipe VI of Spain, Princess Sofia of Spain, Queen Sofia, Princess Leonor of Spain, Queen Letizia of Spain and King Juan Carlos  Credit: Getty Images

Perhaps the greatest blessing of the British Royal family is that they are financially well-endowed in their own right. I don’t mean a blessing for them, but for us. As their subjects, we are spared the embarrassment of reading about the Queen or her children getting sucked into tawdry money-making scandals (we’ll draw a veil over the time Prince Andrew sold his mock-Tesco Sunningdale mansion to a Kazakh billionaire for £3 million over the asking price). They have plenty of other problems – divorce, adultery, bad marriages – but a lack of money, at least, isn’t one. 

Not like in Spain, where the root cause of all Royal scandals is a chronic lack of lucre. Having suffered the indignities of being twice deposed, ruled by Franco, and had all their palaces nationalised, the House of Bourbon doesn't actually have much cash to play with.

Why else would King Juan Carlos – as he was at the time, since succeeded by his son Felipe – have been so foolish as to open a Swiss bank account, into which King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia dropped €88 million, allegedly as a sweetener for a railway contract?

From left to right: Elena, Queen Sofia, Felipe and King Juan Carlos of Spain

Juanito, as his sympathisers call him, might have got away with it, had he not been idiotic enough to boast about the transaction to one of his mistresses, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. This mistake was compounded by an earlier one - to have chosen her as a mistress at all.

She was caught on tape telling a now-jailed bent policeman and blackmailer all about it, a recording of which was leaked to a news website. The golden rule of a mistress, as any prince knows, is to keep her sweet and discreet. Since she and Juanito fell out, Corinna has been neither.  

So there you have it - all the ingredients for a seriously juicy scandal. And, sadly, a damaging one. Because it’s one thing for Prince Harry to marry an actress and storm off to L.A., or for Prince Andrew to hold a “perfectly normal shooting weekend”. The real damage to the teetering Babel of monarchy comes when greed, not lust, is the vice wielding the wrecking ball. We are all, as humans, imperfect, so we can sympathise with a sexual peccadillo or ill-judged decision.

In France, mistresses are mandatory, and even the Church of England accepts that Royals are entitled to a sex life (divorcee Prince Charles will one day be its head). But even the most ardent Royalist cannot turn a blind eye to financial misdemeanours because they compromise the professional integrity of the monarch.

Juan Carlos & Princess Sophia  Credit: Getty Images

The sadness in all this is that Juanito isn’t even King any more – he stepped aside in 2014, largely in the hope that all these embarrassments would shrink away with him. It was a shrewd move, perhaps the shrewdest he ever made, after a lifetime of playboy antics that have put him increasingly at odds with the mood of the country.

Most memorable of these was the time in 2012 when he was caught hunting elephants in Botswana on a secret trip accompanied by Corinna, at a time when the country was plunged into recession.

Few Royal watchers would deny that it was Juanito who saved the Spanish Royal family in 1975, upon the death of Franco, and again in 1981, when he saw off a military coup and united Spain’s divided factions. But 40 years on, few would disagree that had he not stepped down when he did, the House of Bourbon would have fallen by now.  

King Felipe and Queen Letizia Credit: Getty Images

Its saviour has been young King Felipe and his svelte modern Queen, Letizia. Together they have won back the public’s sympathy for the dusty old institution they represent, reinventing the monarchy as a dynamic, caring, approachable, internationalist force for good on the world stage.

They only have one problem: Juanito. Speak to any member of the court or Spain’s grandest ruling families and you get the sense they just wish he would disappear. Of course they acknowledge that it was he who put them there, and that his forceful personality and strength of character was what earned the respect of his people. But that has also been his downfall, as it has led to arrogance and, say friends, an unforgivable humiliation of his saintly wife, Queen Sophia.

The family has turned against him, and he has few allies left. Only his daughter, the Infanta Cristina, has become closer to him in recent years, through dint of being embroiled in her own corruption scandal via her husband, in which Juanito may also now be implicated.  

Whether any of this will make it to court remains to be seen. In theory, the King is above the law, but not so an ex-King for crimes committed after his abdication. You know that matters have reached a new low when Taki, the Greek playboy and philanderer once jailed for smuggling cocaine, condemns you as beyond salvation. As he puts it, “Juan Carlos is the perfect example of what not to do”.

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