Fresh Scandal Tests Spain’s Monarchy
Inside the Zarzuela Palace, the spacious residence of King Felipe VI of Spain, there is a corridor dedicated to cartoons about the royal family.Most of the light-hearted jokes are by Spanish media but there is also one from France’s Le Monde.Conspicuous by its absence is the Spanish satirical magazine El Jueves (Thursday). This is no accident.When Felipe’s father Juan Carlos I abdicated in 2014 after nearly 40 years on the throne, the magazine’s artists marked the occasion with a special front page cartoon.It showed the former king passing his son a crown covered in excrement – a pointed reference to the scandals which had led to Juan Carlos’ to quit the throne.It did not go down well at the Zarzuela. El Jueves was ordered to withdraw the magazine from sale and gave in to pressure as insulting the royal family is a criminal offense in Spain.“It seemed that we could make fun of Juan Carlos’ love life but if we said anything about his financial affairs or anything about how he ruled, that would not be tolerated,” Isaac Rosa, a former writer for El Jueves told VOA.“Many staff, myself included, left in protest. We all knew about these allegations but no-one reported it in Spain. That has changed now.”A financial scandal involving the 82-year-old ex-king has put into sharp relief Spaniards’ relationship with the monarchy.Spain’s supreme court prosecutor began an investigation into the role of its former king in a $7.5 billion deal to build a high speed rail link in Saudi Arabia.FILE – Spain’s Princess Elena waves to the crowds as she is escorted by her father King Juan Carlos to the altar of Seville’s cathedral on March 18, 1995.Prosecutors are examining if there is any evidence of money laundering and fraud after Juan Carlos left the throne as the Spanish constitution says serving monarchs cannot be prosecuted.The story revolves around allegations made by Carlos’ former lover, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a German businesswoman who splits her time between London and Monaco. She said they had maintained a relationship between 2004 and 2010. The king remains married to Queen Sofia.Sayn-Wittgenstein claimed in 2008 Carlos received a kickback of $100m from the Saudi Arabian royal family and he later gave her some $65 million which was deposited in offshore accounts.A magistrate in Switzerland is now investigating two financial advisers to Juan Carlos who handled accounts in Switzerland and Panama City.Spain’s relationship with monarchy has in recent years been an uneasy one.The longtime ruler General Francisco Franco nominated Juan Carlos as his successor before Franco died in 1975.Before Franco came to power after winning the civil war in 1936-1939, Spain voted in 1931 on whether to get rid of its monarch, Juan Carlos’s grandfather, Alfonso XIII, and usher in a republic. Alfonso fled.Juan Carlos was lauded for helping to uphold a fragile new democracy.In 1981, when armed police stormed the Spanish parliament in an attempted coup d’etat, Juan Carlos made a televised address to the nation backing democracy and faced down the plotters. The coup failed.Despite his love of bullfighting, fast cars and women to whom he was not married, the king was a popular figure.Yet doubts remained. Spaniards were often described as “more juan carlistas than monarquistas” meaning they supported the person of Juan Carlos more than the monarchy itself.Attitudes changed in 2012 when Juan Carlos had to be flown back from Botswana to Spain after he injured himself during a secret elephant hunting safari with Sayn-Wittgenstein.Spaniards were appalled as millions were struggling to survive a deep recession.When Felipe came to the throne he promised a “renewed monarchy for new times” and vowing to “listen, understand, warn and advise.”In March, Felipe was forced to renounce his personal inheritance from his father after it was alleged that he was set to receive millions of euros from a secret offshore fund linked to Saudi Arabia. The king also stripped Juan Carlos of his royal allowance.The king released an unprecedented statement saying last year he had become aware he was the beneficiary of an offshore fund and decided to renounce any benefit from this account.Now the issue has split the coalition government of the Socialists and the far-left Unidas Podemos.FILE – People fill the main square of Madrid during a march by members of the Podemos party, which hopes to emulate the electoral success of Greece’s Syriza party in elections later this year, Jan. 31, 2015.Pablo Echenique, parliamentary spokesman for Podemos, led a motion for a parliamentary commission to examine the ex-king’s financial affairs, but it was blocked by the Socialists who formed an unlikely alliance with the conservative People’s Party and the far-right Vox party.“Every time they need weaker arguments to continue protecting the royal household and to keep putting the king above the law. We will keep trying to change that,” Echenique tweeted.Pilar Eyre, a writer and royal expert, said the royal household should have addressed the financial allegations earlier to boost support for the monarchy.“The way the royal household has dealt with this has seemed clumsy. These allegations have been around for a time but they have not dealt with them properly in order to re-establish respect for the institution of the monarchy,” she told VOA.Conservative commentators have applauded the role of King Felipe in renewing faith in the monarchy and for his support during the COVID-19 crisis.Emiliano Garcia-Page, regional president of Castilla La Mancha, said: “I don’t think a debate over monarchy or a republic will be the best idea now. The king has been in touch with us throughout this crisis.”Spaniards may disagree.A poll published in April for Publico newspaper found 51.6 per cent of Spaniards backed a republic rather than a monarchy, while 34.6 per cent supported the crown. Just over 58 per cent said the matter should be settled by holding a referendum.The spokesman for the royal household declined to comment.