In the clear?


It was always extremely unlikely that investigations into Spain's King Juan Carlos would lead to criminal proceedings

Friday, 4 March 2022


You might hear it claimed by fervent royalists that Spain's former king, Juan Carlos, has been cleared of fraud by Spanish investigators. All three probes into his financial affairs have now been discontinued by Spain's prosecutors, who announced this week that there was insufficient evidence to prove the emeritus king guilty and that no "criminal action" would be taken against him. Last December, Swiss authorities shelved a related investigation against Juan Carlos for the same reasons.

Lack of evidence, of course, doesn't amount to guilt. It means that not enough facts have been discovered to justify an accusation of guilt. Yet the Swiss prosecutors, at least, reportedly never believed in Juan Carlos's explanation of his offshore structures, stating that he showed a "will to dissimulation" - in other words, to conceal and dissemble, to disguise. That's as far as they could go.

It was always extremely unlikely that the Spanish and Swiss investigations would yield any negative results, let alone lead to criminal proceedings. Not only was the former monarch immune from prosecution for any alleged wrongdoing committed before 2014, when he abdicated in favour of his son Felipe VI; he also made two hasty tax settlements - one in December 2020, another in February 2021 - which cancelled the possibility of legal action being taken in connection with the associated investigations. Neither of these payments was exactly indicative of innocence.

The former king set up an offshore network so intricate that, after three years of trying to ascertain the source and trajectory of suspicious funds, expert investigators are stumped, or at least unable to investigate further. Opacity is the speciality of the offshore banking world, but you don't seek that speciality unless you've something to hide, whether legal or illegal. What did Juan Carlos want to conceal? Why were there offshore companies tied to bank accounts in well-known tax havens in the first place? Those are just two of the questions that will never be answered now the investigations have been closed.

The matter of Juan Carlos' homecoming remains a difficult one for his son Felipe, who won't want to be perceived as relaxing his zero-tolerance stance on alleged abuse of royal prerogatives. The inconclusive final status of the fraud investigations against Juan Carlos might not have unearthed any crimes, but the cloud of suspicion under which he remains might keep him in exile for the time being.

Against the royalists (or at least their most loyal faction), non-royalists, myself included, can argue that the shelved Swiss and Spanish investigations support an unfortunate but well-established fact: lack of accountability is a constitutionally enshrined feature of the Spanish monarchy, and many other monarchies across the globe.

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