The woman at the heart of a corruption scandal that has shaken the foundations of the Spanish royal family has compared herself to Meghan Markle and Wallis Simpson as she revealed details of a campaign of harassment against her.
Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein told The Telegraph "hostility is always channelled towards the woman” as she recounted media frenzies over her relationship with the former king Juan Carlos and alleged intimidation by Spanish secret service operatives in London.
In the most revealing interview she has given about the bitter aftermath of her break-up, Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein said Spain’s establishment and media had treated her like a modern-day Wallis Simpson, blamed as the wicked woman responsible for the downfall of a king.
“There is a tendency that when people cannot control a powerful man, they destroy the object of his affection,” the 55-year-old Danish socialite explained.
“This narrative still survives to this day. You can even see it with Meghan and Harry. The hostility always goes to the woman and the poor man is this helpless creature who has been horribly manipulated and it is the woman who has plunged the country into a huge crisis.”
Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein’s name was first linked to Juan Carlos in 2012, when she claims her presence on a disastrous elephant-hunting trip with the king was leaked by the head of the Spanish secret service (CNI) at the time, Félix Sanz Roldán, amid palace tensions over the possible abdication of the king.
Since 2018, she and other associates of Juan Carlos have been under investigation in Switzerland for alleged money laundering, leading to the revelation that she had received a gift of €65 million from the former king in 2012, the balance of a Panama-domiciled shell company he had set up four years earlier thanks to a $100 million “donation” from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.
Anger over the 2012 safari and a separate corruption scandal involving Juan Carlos’s son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, prompted him to abdicate in 2014. When The Telegraph revealed in March that King Felipe had been named as a hereditary beneficiary to the Panama-domiciled “Lucum” fund, Juan Carlos’s son rejected any financial inheritance and vetoed annual stipends due to the old king.
After being placed under investigation by Supreme Court prosecutors, 82-year-old Juan Carlos left Spain in August, flying to temporary exile in Abu Dhabi.
In the weeks after the Botswana debacle, when Juan Carlos broke his hip and had to be flown back to Madrid for surgery amid a media frenzy, Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein said her apartment in Monaco was “occupied by mercenaries for six weeks”, with General Sanz Roldán telling her the agents were there for her security.
On a trip to Brazil that same month of April 2012, Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein claimed she was followed and that at one point, drivers of another vehicle tried to run her off the road. “The night before I left for Brazil a man appeared in my hotel room at 2am and said he was there to help me pack my bags. He did not knock, he didn’t switch on a light.”
Finally, she said, on May 5, 2012 General Sanz Roldán, who was CNI director from 2009 to 2019, visited her in her room at The Connaught hotel in London. “It was a very frightening conversation, like talking to Hannibal Lecter. He said: Unless you do what I say, I cannot guarantee the physical safety of you and your children.”
She said the general’s instructions were for her to not speak to the media and to “motivate” Juan Carlos to stay on as king amid speculation over a possible abdication.
According to Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the agents in her Monaco home stole personal papers and professional contracts. This was, she claimed, the onset of a campaign to “collapse my financial and professional reputation”, with Spanish state agents convincing her clients that she had behaved dishonourably towards Juan Carlos, and even paying them to no longer work with her.
“I feel like I have been taken hostage to the will of at least two extremely powerful men, the former king of Spain and General Sanz Roldán.”
Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein said that all of her family relationships had been damaged by a whispering campaign, including her son Alexander at the age of 14 reading messages about her being “a thief and an unstable, crazy witch” in a WhatsApp group to which Juan Carlos also belonged.
Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein also claimed to be subjected to continuous surveillance, with her mobile and PCs and those of her assistants coming under cyber-attacks and the panic alarm in her London flat going off at night.
“Ultimately the aim is to isolate you and make you feel like you are standing alone in a field, and many people would commit suicide under this amount of pressure. This brutal campaign, executed with military precision, has left no part of my life untouched.”
Reflecting on how many people seem to justify abuse against her because of the huge financial gift she received from Juan Carlos, Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein said the trajectory her career was on eight years ago meant she would have earned the same amount of money if she had not been put out of business. “If I'd been given the choice between this gift and continuing with my career, I would have chosen my profession any given day.”
In 2019 Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein’s legal team approached Spain’s King Felipe and Queen Letizia. “I asked him to put his weight behind stopping the abuse campaign by his father, who remains a member of the royal house. If you cannot control your own family, how can you lead a nation?”
Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein said that King Felipe’s sole response was to distance himself from his father’s under-fire financial dealings, while ignoring her allegations of harassment. “I find that is astonishing and disconcerting in today’s climate where you have people like Harvey Weinstein, and my heart goes out to those victims. Abuse is not always sexual, it can take many forms. In my case it’s a psychological kind of abuse.”
Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein has repeatedly said she will be presenting a lawsuit in a UK court accusing leading members of the Spanish state of harassment.
In terms of the Swiss investigation, Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein said she remains confident that no charges will be pressed against her.
She said she is confused as to why she has been questioned, unlike others who she said also received money from the same Lucum fund, such as another girlfriend of Juan Carlos’s, and the former king’s children, who she claimed had access to cash that was flown into Spain from the foundation’s Swiss bank account. “From the outside, it looks like the royal family and anyone really close to them are somehow excluded from this process," she said.
During her relationship with Juan Carlos, which she said lasted between 2004 and 2009, Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein recalled the then-king taking her on a tour of the Zarzuela Palace outside Madrid, including what she called “the cash room” containing significant quantities of paper money.
“Cash is non-traceable so there was a lot of it in the palace. From what he said to me, any family member who needed cash helped themselves to it.”