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Ex-King of Spain to face High Court claim over harassment allegations

Archive image of former Spanish King Juan Carlos attending a bullfight at the bullring in Aranjuez, Spain, June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Juan Medina/File Photo

By Tom Pilgrim, PA

The former king of Spain faces a civil claim at the High Court in London over allegations he caused an ex-lover “great mental pain” by spying on and harassing her, after he lost a bid for immunity.

Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, a Danish businesswoman, is seeking damages for personal injury over the ex-king’s alleged actions.

Juan Carlos I, 84, who ruled from 1975 until his abdication in June 2014 and the succession of his son King Felipe VI, denies any wrongdoing.

At a High Court hearing in December, his lawyers argued that the ex-monarch was “entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of the English courts in his capacity as a senior member of the Spanish royal family”.

But in a ruling issued on Thursday, Mr Justice Nicklin rejected his bid for immunity, allowing the claim against the former king to go ahead.

The judge, whose ruling focused on the issue of immunity only, said he rejected an argument that despite his abdication Juan Carlos remained a “sovereign” and was entitled to personal immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978.

“There is only one King of Spain and head of state of Spain and, since June 19 2014, that has been his son, King Felipe VI,” the judge said.

“Whatever his special constitutional position following abdication, [Juan Carlos] is neither the sovereign nor the head of state of Spain.”

The judge also said Juan Carlos was not a member of the current King’s household within the meaning of the Act.

He said his position under the Spanish constitution was “entirely honorary” and provided him “no continuing role”

“As matters stand presently, and since his retirement from public life, [Juan Carlos] has discharged no public functions in support of the royal family or Spanish state, and he has lived in the United Arab Emirates since August 2020.”

Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn’s lawyer, Robin Rathmell, of law firm Kobre & Kim said the ruling demonstrated the ex-king “cannot hide behind position, power, or privilege to avoid this claim”.

The lawyer added that Juan Carlos “will now be answerable to an English court for his actions as a private individual”, adding: “This is the first step on the road to justice; the appalling facts of this case will finally be brought before the court.”

The ex-King and the Danish businesswoman were in a relationship between 2004 and 2009, with Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn claiming he asked her to marry him before it ended.

According to her claim, after their break-up, the pair remained close friends for a period, with Juan Carlos allegedly giving her “artwork, jewellery and financial gifts”, including payments amounting to around 65 million euros (£55 million) in June 2012.

In court documents, she said the former king sought to rekindle their relationship, but this was declined, with Juan Carlos then allegedly pursuing a “pattern of conduct amounting to harassment”.

It is claimed that, at a meeting in the Connaught Hotel in London on May 5 2012, that General Sanz Roldán, the head of the Spanish National Intelligence Agency and an “agent or associate” of the former king, was “threatening” towards Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn and her children.

She alleges the meeting was timed “to correspond with the breaking into her apartments in Monaco and in Villars, Switzerland, where a book on the death of Princess Diana was left on a coffee table”.

The book, entitled “Princess Diana: The Hidden Evidence, How MI6 and the CIA were involved in the death of Princess Diana”, was left on the table, with papers in the apartment allegedly being “disturbed”.

Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn claims that on the evening she discovered the book she received a phone call from “an unknown person” who said in Spanish: “There are many tunnels between Monaco and Nice.”

She also alleges that Juan Carlos gave “an expensive watch” to her driver in 2014 as “a precursor to further contact” and “supplied false information to the media” about her.

Following his abdication, and after Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn “made clear” that a relationship could not resume, Juan Carlos allegedly “demanded the return of gifts”, was “threatening” towards her and “subsequently carried out or arranged a series of further acts of covert and overt surveillance, causing distress and anxiety”.

Her lawyers previously said in written submissions to the court that this included “trespass and criminal damage, such as drilling a hole into her bedroom window while she slept at night in her home in Shropshire on June 21 2017… and gunshots fired at and damaging the lenses of her front gate CCTV on April 14 2020”.

They said these matters were reported to the police and she was now seeking “personal injury damages” for the “great mental pain, alarm, anxiety, distress, loss of wellbeing, humiliation and moral stigma” she allegedly suffered.

They also said she alleges that the former king’s motives were that he felt angry and rejected by their relationship not resuming and “wanted to punish her for refusing to submit to his will”.

Jonathan Caplan QC, representing Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, previously said in written arguments that the former king had relinquished the status of “a sovereign or other head of state” when he abdicated and could not claim immunity as a member of his son’s household.

Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC, for Juan Carlos, said in written arguments that the king rejected the allegations made against him in “the strongest of terms”.

He argued that, under the State Immunity Act 1978, Juan Carlos is immune from the jurisdiction of the English courts and if there are any allegations against him they must be brought in the Spanish Supreme Court.

Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, who has been married twice, was described in court documents as “a strategic consultant working with high-net-worth individuals and with leading companies around the world”.

She is a resident of Monaco, with homes in London and Shropshire.

Juan Carlos has been based in the United Arab Emirates since 2020.

He recently announced his desire to return to Spain for sporadic visits after prosecutors at home and in Switzerland found no evidence of financial misbehaviour that would fall outside royal immunity laws.

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