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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the monarch should be stripped of immunity from criminal prosecution in the wake of a series of scandals that forced former king Juan Carlos into exile and bitterly divided the royal family.
A Spanish court is widely expected to drop an investigation into Juan Carlos’s alleged financial misdeeds, in part because none of his actions prior to his 2014 abdication can be tried.
Mr Sánchez said the constitutional clause under which the sitting monarch enjoys immunity as “the product of another age”.
“I don’t think it is necessary to recognise that condition of a head of state,” Mr Sánchez said when asked in a radio interview about the constitutional description of the Spanish monarch as “inviolable”.
Mr Sánchez said that the granting of immunity against prosecution was understandable in the context of Spain’s transition under Juan Carlos after the 1975 death of dictator Francisco Franco, but was no longer required “in an era of consolidated democracy”.
Juan Carlos was placed under investigation by the public prosecutor’s office at Spain’s Supreme Court in June 2020 in connection with the receipt of $100m from the former king of Saudi Arabia. The money was allegedly a kickback. He has also been accused of possible money laundering and tax evasion involving funds held in Switzerland, Mexico and Jersey.
Recent leaks from the prosecutor’s office to Spanish media suggest that the investigation will end without any formal charges being levelled at Juan Carlos, who left Spain secretly in August of last year before it emerged that he was living in Abu Dhabi.
Since the probe began, Juan Carlos has paid more than five million euros in back taxes to Spain’s treasury.
Juan Carlos is also understood to be seeking to avoid a possible trial in the UK by pleading sovereign immunity after his onetime lover, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, filed a civil lawsuit accusing the former king of harassment, including alleged threats and defamation.
The UK High Court will have to decide whether it has jurisdiction in the case given that the main defendant is a former monarch who was still on the throne when some of the alleged harassment took place.
King Felipe VI removed his father from Spain’s civil list in March 2020 after The Telegraph revealed that Juan Carlos had included his son’s name as a beneficiary of two offshore funds. Felipe VI also renounced any inheritance Juan Carlos may have been preparing for him.
Mr Sánchez said he felt sorrow on behalf of King Felipe, a monarch “committed to being exemplary”.
Juan Carlos, Spain’s prime minister added, should “offer explanations to Spaniards on the reasons that led him to leave Spain and the reports we are seeing in the media”.
Mr Sánchez’s Left-wing government hopes to introduce a constitutional reform package including a move towards a federal system of government to weaken calls for independence from many Catalan and Basque parties, and the incorporation of Spain’s membership of the EU.
However, he said that changing the Constitution would depend on the collaboration of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), given that a two-thirds parliamentary majority is required to start the process.
“It takes two to tango,” Mr Sánchez said.
Reflecting a highly polarised atmosphere in Spanish politics, PP leader Pablo Casado rejected out of hand any cross-party agreement on constitutional reform, saying that the Constitution was a guarantee of the unity of Spain and that Mr Sánchez’s motivation was merely to appease the pro-independence government of Catalonia.
The only reform promised by Mr Sánchez at last weekend’s Socialist party congress that Mr Casado said he agreed with was a plan to abolish prostitution, which exists in a state of quasi-legality in Spain.