Spain’s former king loses immunity claim in UK court

Juan Carlos may face trial over former lover’s accusations of harassment campaign

Juan Carlos, the former king of Spain, has lost his claim to sovereign immunity before a UK court, raising the possibility he will go on trial to face allegations of harassing and threatening a woman who was his lover.

German-born businesswoman Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (58) accuses the former monarch of conniving with Spanish intelligence services in a campaign of intimidation and surveillance against her after their five-year relationship ended. She says she suffered the harassment in several countries, including the UK where she owns property.

The high court of justice ruled that the royal status of Juan Carlos (84), who abdicated in 2014, should not protect him from the civil case brought against him by Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein.

“Whatever his special constitutional position following abdication, the defendant is neither the sovereign nor the head of state of Spain,” said the judge, Matthew Nicklin, in his ruling. “Since abdication, he is not entitled to personal immunity.”

He also ruled that Juan Carlos does not qualify as a member of the household of his son, King Felipe, and that the claim by Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein is related to a purely personal matter, with no link to any public role the former monarch may have held.

Robin Rathmell of Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein’s legal counsel, said that Juan Carlos “will now be answerable to an English court for his actions as a private individual”.

The former king, who denies Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein’s accusations, can appeal the ruling. However, a source close to her said that her legal team are confident that he will face trial.

Juan Carlos and his legal team made no comment in the immediate aftermath of the ruling.

During the hearing on his claim to immunity in December, the former monarch's lawyers had highlighted his importance in ushering in democracy to Spain following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, the year he took the throne.

Juan Carlos currently lives in the United Arab Emirates having left Spain in 2020 amid a flurry of scandals about his financial affairs. Earlier this month, Spain's supreme court shelved three investigations it had opened into his activities. They were related to alleged money laundering, tax fraud and the possible acceptance of a bribe in the form of a €65 million payment he had received in 2008 from the Saudi royal family.

He subsequently gave that money to Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein and she claims that the harassment began after she broke off their relationship and refused to return it.

She claims that Juan Carlos was responsible for incidents in which intruders at her property in Shropshire, England, drilled a hole in her bedroom window as she slept and, separately, damaged her security cameras with gunfire. She also claims she was threatened by the then head of Spain’s national intelligence service, Félix Sanz Roldán, during a meeting in a London hotel.

The ending of the supreme court investigation into his finances fuelled speculation that Juan Carlos would return to Spain. However, he has announced that although he plans to visit his home country, he will remain abroad for the foreseeable future.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain