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No one, not even kings or queens, should be immune from prosecution

Mark Nayler

Friday, 6 November 2020, 12:41

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It would appear that Spain's royal family has experienced hard times over recent years, with the emergence this week of yet another fraud investigation into emeritus king Juan Carlos. This one, which is now in the hands of a prosecutor at the Supreme Court, concerns the use by Juan Carlos and other, unnamed, members of the royal family of credit cards allegedly linked to suspicious accounts, in transactions said to date from 2016, 2017 and 2018. Juan Carlos, of course, is no longer in Spain, having fled to the United Arab Emirates in August as details of the first two fraud investigations against him emerged.

If a scandal centring on questionable credit cards sounds familiar, it's for good reason. In 2017, former IMF chief and deputy prime minister Rodrigo Rato was sent to prison for his role in the "Tarjetas Negras" case, which concerned his and fellow executives' use of limitless cards during his chairmanship of Bankia. The scandal caused outrage, not least because it showed wealthy individuals treating themselves to illegitimate perks, at a time when ordinary households were enduring recession.

Such allegations, even if eventually dismissed, tarnish the reputation of any politician, but they look even worse for royals. Royals are the embodiment of unearned privilege, with a great deal more than most - much more, even, than the pampered executives and politicians implicated in the Bankia scandal.

That the former king may have used his unique position to accrue even more money than he already possessed, or live a life more lavish than was already possible, makes the greed of politicians such as Rato look negligible. Did there come a point at which this once-popular monarch checked the balance of his accounts or surveyed his assets and thought, "There's nowhere near enough here?"

The new investigation now runs alongside two that were revealed in August, which centre on multimillion-euro "gifts" from Saudi Arabian royalty and funds held in Swiss bank accounts. These inquiries, however, concern events that occurred prior to Juan Carlos's abdication in 2014, meaning that he's immune from prosecution if proven guilty of wrongdoing before that date. The former king enjoys no such protection from the credit card investigation, focused as it is on a later period.

One key issue raised by Juan Carlos's reputational deterioration is whether monarchs should be granted legal invincibility for the duration of their reign. The answer, I believe, is "no".

After all, if Juan Carlos was guilty of fraud during his time as king, it's reasonable to assume that awareness of this invincibility influenced his conduct - that being above the law acted as a powerful incentive to ignore it.

That's just one good reason why no one, not even kings or queens, should be immune from prosecution.

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