UK court to decide on former Spanish king’s immunity claim

Ex-lover of Juan Carlos accuses him of harassment and spying

Juan Carlos (83), the former Spanish king who abdicated in 2014, faces accusations by German-born businesswoman Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. Photograph: Pierre-Philippe

Juan Carlos (83), the former Spanish king who abdicated in 2014, faces accusations by German-born businesswoman Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. Photograph: Pierre-Philippe

 

A UK court has concluded a hearing on whether to grant Spain’s former king Juan Carlos sovereign immunity and must now decide whether he should face charges of harassment and spying brought against him by a former lover.

Juan Carlos (83), who abdicated in 2014, faces accusations by German-born businesswoman Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein that he used the Spanish intelligence services to wage a campaign of intimidation and surveillance against her after their five-year relationship ended.

Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein (57) claims that this campaign took place in several countries, including the UK, leading her to bring a civil case against the former monarch before the British High Court of Justice.

The court must rule on the former king’s immunity request to decide whether the case can go any further.

Court documents outlining Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein’s case cited the “great mental pain, alarm, anxiety, distress, loss of wellbeing, humiliation and moral stigma she has suffered”.

The former king, who was not present for the court hearing, denies the harassment and spying accusations. During the two-day hearing, his legal team made reference to his role in helping usher in democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, the same year he took the throne.

His lawyer, Daniel Bethlehem, told the court that Juan Carlos “is the personal embodiment not only of Spain’s constitutional return to democracy but also of its unbroken connection to the past”, as he argued in favour of immunity.

Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein’s legal team said that given Juan Carlos is no longer king and this is a private matter with no bearing on his role as a public figure, granting him sovereign immunity would not be appropriate.

Break-in

According to the complainant, in 2009 she broke off the relationship with Juan Carlos, who has been married to Queen Sofía since 1962.

He unsuccessfully attempted to resume their affair and showered her with gifts, including a €65 million sum in 2012, she claims. She also said he later asked for the money back and her refusal angered him, triggering a series of incidents which made her fear for her safety.

Among them was a meeting she had in the Connaught Hotel in London with the then-head of Spain’s national intelligence service, Félix Sanz Roldán, in which she says she was threatened. She also cited a break-in at her property in Villars, in Switzerland, where a book about the death of Princess Diana was left on a table.

In another incident, intruders at her property in Shropshire, in England, drilled a hole in the window of her bedroom as she slept. Separately, security cameras on the property were damaged by gunfire, she said.

The couple’s relationship became public in 2012, after it emerged they had been on an elephant hunting holiday together in Botswana, as Spain was mired in economic crisis. Mounting pressure led to Juan Carlos to abdicate in favour of his son, Felipe, two years later.

However, since then a series of financial scandals have engulfed the former king, causing him to flee to Abu Dhabi in August 2020, where he remains.