Juan Carlos I. AFP

Prove it

A lack of evidence puts in doubt the alleged illegalities of Rajoy and Juan Carlos I

MARK NAYLER

This week, one long-running corruption investigation staggered onwards and another was shelved. In the first case, former Conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy returned to the fray, to assure a toothless parliamentary committee that he knew nothing of alleged misdemeanors conducted during his premiership. The second development - or rather, lack of it - concerns the intricate finances of Spain's former king Juan Carlos.

Rajoy made history when he testified in the so-called Gürtel case in March last year, becoming Spain's first in-office prime minister to appear as a witness in court. When he reprised the role this week, albeit as an ex-premier and in front of a committee rather than a panel of judges, his evidence was as explosively boring as it was in 2020.

Last March, Rajoy was adamant that he knew nothing about a slush fund that was in operation while he led the Popular Party (PP); this week, he insisted that he was unaware of attempts to spy on then PP treasurer Luis Barcenas, allegedly to ascertain if he possessed incriminating material on senior party members, including Rajoy himself.

Even if true, these strenuous denials don't exactly constitute a defence. What's being claimed, after all, is that the then PP leader and prime minister had no awareness of fraud practices so widespread that his party as a whole was found guilty, nor of decisions made by some of his highest-ranking officials (it was allegedly Rajoy's interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, who ordered the spying operation on Barcenas).

The quiet Galician appears as an isolated figurehead, disconnected with or perhaps actively excluded from top-level activity within his own party and therefore, of course, unable to prevent wrongdoing. Rajoy might have been the guy no-one wanted to invite to the pub on Friday evening, but that only raises questions about his authority as party leader and premier - it doesn't answer them.

Equally difficult to prove, admitted Swiss investigators this week, is the allegation that Spain's former king, Juan Carlos, received illegal payments from Saudi Arabia. Geneva's chief prosecutor said that he'd established that a Panamanian foundation benefiting Juan Carlos had received $100 million in 2008, but that he couldn't connect that payment with a high-speed rail contract awarded to Spanish companies three years later.

This isn't surprising, as it's never been clear why this enormous "gift" was regarded as a kickback in the first place: if it was related to the Medina-Mecca rail contract, then surely Spain should have bunged Saudi Arabia $100 million in order to secure the job and not the other way around? Nevertheless, you can expect many more of the investigations against Juan Carlos, a once-adored monarch whose lawyers say still has legal immunity, to be shelved because of "lack of evidence".