In the shadows

The testimony given in a London courtroom this week by Corinna Larsen - emeritus king Juan Carlos's former lover - isn't new. It was in an expansive interview with the BBC last August, granted just after Juan Carlos fled Spain amid fraud allegations, that the German businesswoman first claimed that her life and the lives of her children had been threatened in 2012 by Félix Roldán, chief of Spain's intelligence services between 2009 and 2019.

The scope of this particular scandal now extends beyond just Larsen and Juan Carlos and hints at the existence of dark forces at work behind the scenes - ones that operate with great power, just out of sight, and that fiercely protect their own.

The allegation itself is another heavy blow for a once-beloved monarch, who Larsen says issued the threat against her. It's one thing to be accused of fraud and to be suspected of holding questionably acquired funds in offshore accounts; but it's quite another to be accused of issuing a death-threat to your former lover, in order to protect your family's public image.

In May 2012, when the menacing hints to Larsen were allegedly made by Roldán, that image had already been dirtied. News had just broken that Larsen had accompanied Juan Carlos on an extravagant hunting trip to Botswana the previous month, as Spain endured a gruelling recession. It was during this holiday that Larsen claims her Monaco flat was raided by Spanish authorities, on the hunt for documents pertaining to the "financial and business dealings" of Carlos and the royal household.

Why, one wonders, were these documents so incriminating? Did they perhaps concern the same kind of topic as an illicitly taped conversation released in 2018, in which Larsen claims to have seen the former king returning from "Arab countries" with suitcases literally bulging with cash?

This revelation was caught on tape by former undercover police officer and spymaster Jose Villarejo, who recorded all of his conversations with rich and powerful figures. Like Juan Carlos, Villarejo's fall from grace over the last few years has been swift and brutal: once a lauded policeman, who won his first medal in the 1970s for helping to combat ETA, he subsequently worked in the shadows for Spain's political and business elite, allegedly building up a personal fortune in the process. Villarejo was arrested in late 2017 on charges of bribery and money laundering and his first criminal trial is scheduled to begin today.

As a Spanish academic told The New York Times back in 2019, the key question is whether Villarejo's antics as an undercover agent show that "there is a 'deep state' that governs in the shadows" in Spain. The alleged threats made on Juan Carlos's behalf against Larsen in 2012 make one wonder the same thing, and prompt speculation about just how powerful this parallel, shadowy state might be.