CORINNA AND THE KING
Episode 8: Hell-bent – Frozen bank accounts, the FBI, and a harassment suit
Previously on Corinna and the King…
And it led to a complete breakdown of the entire family. He obliterated our family. At that point, we decided we needed to bring a legal case in the United Kingdom. We realized that we had nowhere else to go.
PILAR EYRE (00:24):
It’s the typical story of a man who feels rejected and scorned and does everything in his power to get revenge. But I don’t think that Corinna is up for it.
Spanish journalist Pilar Eyre is betting Corinna can’t win this fight, this war, against the king. Is she right? Here we are, as the story of Corinna and the king reaches its climax.
He has been described by people close to him as “hell-bent.” And I think hell-bent is a very good word to describe his frame of mind. Hell-bent has no reason, sees no reason – seeks no reason.
But then again, maybe it’s the ex-king, Juan Carlos I – the ultimate lothario, the fallen hero, the cheater – who doesn’t see any of it coming.
So despite the fact that I think most of these actions have led to greater damage to himself than he could’ve ever imagined. There has been no moment of reckoning.
Maybe it’s the king who needs to watch his back.
It’s a David and Goliath fight.
Life hasn’t been easy for Corinna since facing money laundering accusations, she’s been pretty much excommunicated. First, it’s the social life…
I stopped going to restaurants. I stopped buying anything for myself. I stopped going on holidays.
Okay, so she hasn’t exactly fallen on hard times. But then they go for the money. With so many investigations implicating her, everything in her name is flagged and frozen.
Her cards stop working. Transactions stop going through, including the electricity bills, water bills, the salaries she pays to her employees. There’s no warning or explanation from the banks. She has to find loopholes to keep the lights on, pay the bills, pay her staff. And this isn’t just about the Swiss Prosecutors clamping down. Corinna suspects there’s more at play here.
The intent was really to collapse my financial reputation and my ability to fund my legal defense.
The media loves it. She even compares herself to Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, another favorite target of the British tabloids.
So effectively, I was part of a circus show, a very detrimental circus show in which I was the show pony. And of course it’s far more media effective to have some sort of blonde woman as the criminal mastermind than looking at a bunch of middle-aged men who’ve been doing that for decades.
Touché. But then suddenly, there comes an announcement, something that shocks Corinna and the entire population of Spain.
NEWS PRESENTER (03:30):
The Royal Palace in Madrid has seen monarchs rise and fall…
In August 2020, more than a year after Corinna and the king’s fateful meeting at her London apartment, Juan Carlos announces he will leave Spain.
He writes a letter to his son, King Felipe, published for all to see by the Royal Household, saying he’s leaving “in the face of the public repercussions that certain past events of my private life are generating.” He says it’s a “thoughtful decision” that he made “with sadness but great serenity.” He makes no mention of his wife, Sofia.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is a little less forgiving. At a press conference, he tells it like it is.
PEDRO SANCHEZ (04:29):
This is the decision to distance themselves from the allegedly questionable and reprehensible behavior by a member of the royal household.
Juan Carlos, once the hero of Spain, is now a pariah, the one who destroyed everything. Born in exile and now living the end of his life in exile. And the message from the royal family? Don’t. Come. Back.
Veteran journalist José Antonio Zarzalejos is among many covering the story, but he has better sources than most and knows exactly what has gone down at Zarzuela Palace.
JOSE ANTONIO ZARZELEJOS (05:13):
This is presented as a voluntary decision made by Don Juan Carlos. The truth is that this is a decision communicated to Don Juan Carlos by the chief of the Royal House of the king, Don Jaime Alfonsín, and the king, who is conscious that his son Felipe the Sixth is the head of the family, only reluctantly accepts that he has to leave Spain.
Don’t worry too much about Juan Carlos. Rumors are he’s at a luxury resort in the Dominican Republic. Others say he’s sailing in Portugal, where he had spent much of his youth. But then the truth comes out.
Juan Carlos, the former king, has reportedly been in Abu Dhabi since leaving his country on Monday amid allegations of corruption…
Four days later, Juan Carlos is photographed getting off a private jet in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The king is good friends with the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and he’s treated like one.
At first it looks like the former king is occupying an entire floor of Emirates Palace Hotel, a five-star hotel in Abu Dhabi, where a suite can cost over $10,000 a night. But where he lands is even better. Nurai Island, accessible only by boat, 15 minutes from Abu Dhabi. Isolated, 360 degree ocean views.
Apparently he kills time by watching movies in his private cinemas or hosting visits from local Sheikhs and expats in town. Like Lebanese arms dealer Abdul Rhamán El Assir, who he’s recently been spotted with almost on a daily basis. Probably not helping his case.
But the United Arab Emirates has a reputation. It’s a favorite destination for the scandal-drenched, for criminals trying to start a new life, even possible war criminals. Iraqi nuclear physicist and chief nuclear bomb maker Jafar Dhia Jafar lives quietly in the emirate of Sharjah. He’s been there for at least fifteen years. And just like Juan Carlos, he gets to stay in the country, as long as he keeps quiet. Out of sight. Out of mind.
PILAR EYRE (07:46):
No matter how much people say “Poor Don Juan Carlos,” he’s living like an Arab sheik.
But as the disgraced ex-king continues to live the high life, even in exile, Corinna finds herself in the opposite situation. The articles are accusing her of theft and fraud, and now people are treating her like some kind of criminal mastermind.
So she does something radical. Something no one expects. She walks right into the Lion’s den. The FBI.
He is a formidable former agent who investigated countless other very high profile cases.
I’m Mishel Prada, and this is the final episode of Corinna and the King. Episode eight – Hell-bent.
BILL MCMURRY (08:49):
No matter how powerful your adversary is, no matter how many lawyers you can hire if enough resources and enough effort is put on your case, the truth will find its way to the surface.
Bill McMurry might look like a sunbaked surfer, but he grew up in a humble New Jersey suburb with the dream of joining the FBI. In the late 80s, he enrolled in college as a first-generation student, graduated as an ROTC cadet, and snagged a sought-after spot in the Air Force. His first mission? Gathering intelligence on the streets of war-torn Somalia. He says it was a springboard into the FBI. Over the years, he rose through the ranks and was eventually selected to lead the FBI’s International Corruption Squad in 2015, which deals with large-scale corruption cases involving foreign government officials.
BILL MCMURRY (09:51):
Usually, that meant laundering of illicit funds through the United States, either through real estate, financial institutions, and matters like that.
He led the team that cracked the 1Malaysia Development Berhad case – one of the biggest corruption scandals of all time that plundered billions of dollars from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund.
He retired from the FBI in 2020. Now, Bill runs a company, W1, representing people who are in the government’s crosshairs.
BILL MCMURRY (10:19):
The majority of our clients are whistleblowers, victims, or people that have been accused of wrongdoing, but want to use cooperation as a means to navigate their issues. There are extremely powerful incentives to being cooperative and truthful. It’s a huge cost and time saver for the US government to have people come in and lay out the facts.
Being truthful? Cooperative? Finally, someone that can actually help. It’s the first time in years Corinna has met someone like this. It takes some time to build trust. She’d already dealt with the slippery Villarejo and gotten burned. But with Bill, it’s genuine. It’s a huge relief.
I will always recall what Bill said to me. If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about. And as simple as this sounds, that’s exactly how I felt.
In the spring of 2021, she travels to America for a mock interrogation in the style of the Department of Justice and the FBI. Any possible crime on earth that uses a single US dollar can be prosecuted by the DOJ and that’s what appears to be happening here.
And of course, Bill had to very much behave like someone who would actually run this interrogation, and it is an interrogation with all the scary bits that you watch on TV shows or in Hollywood movies.
Every single day for two and a half weeks in a hotel in Miami, Bill and a lawyer he works with, Rachel Tally, grill Corinna for eight to nine hours, lining up facts and fine-tuning important points. Her version of the story needs to be airtight, unassailable. She tells Bill everything, about the gift of 65 million euros, the Nóos scandal, the king’s money laundering. So intense are the sessions that at the end of each one, Corinna loses her voice.
I was just completely zonked and unable to move. And I’m sitting on my chair, staring into the distance until the next day.
But Bill, alongside Rachel, is able to piece together what’s happened – the truth.
BILL MCMURRY (12:42):
What became very clear is when the king gave Corinna the substantial gift that he gave her that then eventually pieces of that gift ended up in the United States which led to Corinna’s issues, it’s very clear that the former king had intentions of getting access to at least portions of that money again, and that Corinna knew that if she were to acquiesce to that, that she could be accused of facilitating money laundering, if she was used as sort of somebody who was just holding money on behalf of the former king and then surreptitiously feeding it back to him.
He believes her. But the best part? Corinna didn’t give the king access to his money.
BILL MCMURRY (13:26):
She didn’t want to have anything to do with that and made it clear very early on that she would not cooperate or participate in anything like that.
Corinna, however, is far from out of the woods. It’s time for the real thing. In Washington DC, she will face the toughest interrogation of her life. But, first, she has to be ultra-careful to not give away her location.
Nothing was in my name. It was always under an alias. So we were basically very mindful, given the level of surveillance everybody was aware I was under, not to have any information out there unnecessarily.
At the hotel in DC, Corinna uses her lawyer’s name. She’s Rachel to the concierge, Rachel to room service, Rachel to the receptionist. The plan works. No one knows Corinna is about to sit across from the Department of Justice and spill everything on the Spanish kingdom.
Every morning, before the interrogation begins, she has to sign an oath that she will not lie to the FBI because it’s a federal offense. And when they start grilling her – who did you have coffee with at 9.30 in morning ten years ago, one cappuccino or two? – she panics, fishing through her documents to find the answer.
And it’s quite a terrifying experience being faced with five FBI officers and numerous DOJ representatives and on zoom and in person and some of them, you see, some of them, you don’t see. You’ve got the good cop, the bad cop. You’ve got all this cast of characters trying to trip you up.
But the further she gets into her story, the more at ease she feels. And she sees a glimmer of hope, even a breakthrough.
As we progressed and we got down to the substance of their concerns, I became very comfortable talking about it because effectively, once we got to the facts, as opposed to impressions, false impressions, facts are my best friends. Facts have always been my friends.
The meetings don’t stop in DC. The whole team, including Corinna and her entourage, relocate to New York City where she will face another round of grueling questions. She has to defend herself, tell the truth and throw the naysayers under the bus.
She ends up staying the whole weekend, and to recharge, she meets with her new beau, Italian opera conductor extraordinaire Alvise Caselatti. The two of them make lunch plans at a spot on 55th Street called Milos.
It’s a nice Greek restaurant. And so, we went there for lunch on the Sunday.
Still in the throes of the pandemic, New York City is unusually quiet, almost eerie. And the restaurant has its tables spaced out. It’s running only at half its normal capacity.
Corinna is relieved. The couple sit deep inside the restaurant, by the kitchen. It’s a trick she learned. Never sit outside or by the window or anywhere where you could be exposed.
Lunch is going well. They’re engrossed in a conversation over lobster and white wine. Caselatti laughs at her joke, tips his head back. She smiles back at him wryly. She’s wearing a black turtleneck sweater. Her blonde hair is neatly pulled back, true to her style.
Then one table catches her eye.
We noticed the family sitting quite close to us. We were sitting at the far end of the restaurant in a corner.
It’s a family of five – three children, with the youngest child in a stroller. The man, possibly the father, is wearing a removable cast. Corinna doesn’t think anything of it.
Obviously, on a Sunday at lunchtime, you see a couple with three children, it doesn’t raise any suspicions.
But in the world of Corinna and the king, no one is who they seem. Not even a family gathered round a table for Sunday lunch.
And the very next day, Vanitatis has published a gossip column with the headline “Exclusive photos: Corinna, the former friend of King Juan Carlos, goes out with an orchestra director.” They reveal details about her boyfriend, his education and career, and the fact they kissed in public. Scandalous.
The photos are grainy. Like they were taken with a phone and zoomed in, or are screenshots from a video. Either way, they’re definitely not by a paparazzo.
So, it became almost obvious to me that somebody had also recorded what we were ordering because they were clearly too far away to be able to listen to what we were ordering.
In New York, recording without the consent of at least one person participating in the conversation is a criminal offense.
So my immediate reaction was, “Let’s go back to Milos.”
She doesn’t even hesitate. They’re back at the restaurant and they demand to speak to the manager. How could this have happened? Which table was it? Who was surveilling us?
The manager reveals the culprit. It’s the table with the three kids. The stroller was positioned to hide the father, who, from the angle the photos were taken at, was the one filming.
The restaurant’s booking system tells them everything else they need to know.
So, we are now looking at the computer and it says, Marco Antonio Achón.
Marco Antonio Achón is the CEO of the investment advisory arm of Santander Group. He’s also the General Manager of the New York branch of Santander Bank. And his wife was a former foreign news reporter at El Confidencial…
She was so careful, using a fake name, covering her tracks, but she was still being followed. Did they know about the FBI? Is Spain about to sabotage her plan? Corinna calls Bill. She tells him everything about the spy.
BILL MCMURRY (20:06):
It seemed to us that somebody of his stature and his position has taken an awfully big chance by taking all of those steps. It’s certainly not very becoming of somebody that holds a position that he holds.
Imagine if the CEO of Barclay’s Bank, engages in illegal taping of private individuals in a New York restaurant on a holiday in front of his children using a baby in a stroller to camouflage his sordid activities.
So together, with the lawyers, they write a letter.
BILL MCMURRY (20:39):
Essentially like a cease and desist letter saying, “We know that it was you that took these photographs and we don’t expect that to happen again. And we don’t expect there to be any additional contact between yourself and Corinna or her boyfriend.”
Bill waits in front of Achón’s apartment in Manhattan to hand deliver the letter.
BILL MCMURRY (20:58):
And while I was waiting, I got a phone call from Corinna’s boyfriend saying that that same individual was in a restaurant that he was currently having dinner in.
Bill goes down to the restaurant and spots Achón, immediately noticeable because of his cast. The first encounter could have been an unlucky coincidence, but how the hell did Achón know Corinna and Alvise would be at this restaurant later that night?
Bill sits at a table close by and watches him until Corinna’s boyfriend asks for the check and leaves.
BILL MCMURRY (21:31):
As soon as the boyfriend left the restaurant, they decided it was time for them to wrap up their meal and leave as well. So then I left the restaurant with them and confronted this individual.
Bill serves Achón a cease and desist letter.
Mr. Achon shows no reaction whatsoever, which is completely abnormal.
BILL MCMURRY (21:50):
He didn’t ask me any questions. He didn’t deny anything. He just took the letter and tried to disengage with me as quickly as possible and just said, “Okay.”
They write to the legal counsel of Santander Bank, saying one of its highest-ups was engaged in illegal spying.
And we got a very kind of evasive response back that Mr. Achón was doing this in his private capacity. And so, to this date, this is still an ongoing investigation. But it shows you how far reaching the tentacles are.
Neither Santander Bank nor Achón responded to requests for comment.
So within six months of my spending time there with them, they had found absolutely no infractions whatsoever.
It’s a win. And not long after, in December 2021, Swiss investigators also decide that Corinna didn’t commit a crime. Her unshakeable story wins her back her freedom, her money.
BILL MCMURRY (23:03):
She stood her ground. At the end of the day, that saved her because if she had acquiesced, she very likely would’ve ended up violating US and Swiss and other law, if she had, in fact allowed the former king of Spain to use her as a transitory conduit to get access to money and hide the source of that funds.
It’s like she’s been saying all along. “I’m innocent, I never did anything wrong.” And guess what? She gets to keep the cash. A gift, after all, is a gift. The 65 million euros is hers. The gigantic diamond ring is hers. The estate in Shropshire, bought with the “donation” from the king, a place larger than Spain’s own palace is in her name. She even ends up with a house in Morocco. Another gift by none other than the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, who took a shine to her on one of her trips back when she was dating Juan Carlos.
Corinna’s US bank accounts were finally unfrozen in the fall of 2021. Somehow, the tide has turned in Corinna’s favor. She lives happily ever after. In peace and quiet. Kind of.
Corinna still gets recognized by Spaniards, all over the world. Except, the image isn’t exactly one she likes to convey, that of a polished, intelligent woman, who can rise above the fickle behavior of lustful men.
They’ve created sort of an evil twin character. The evil twin is an extremely arrogant, unapproachable, cold, calculating witch that really should be nailed to a cross and burned at the stake, who’s made this wonderful man into a creature that was just sort of obeying her orders. It’s just like, I’m reading this about me. And it’s everything down to the way I dress, or what I would eat, or how I would speak – it’s all an invention. The whole thing is a fake, a fictitious character. My friends don’t want to be in Spanish media. My son doesn’t like to be in the media. We’re not celebrities. We’re not actors. We’re not just regular people who’ve been turned into some sort of circus animals by a bunch of crazy, obsessive, old men.
The investigations weren’t yet resolved. But Corinna still initiates her final gambit. She files a lawsuit for harassment against Juan Carlos. Many of the allegations implicate General Sanz Roldan, who as of 2019, stepped down as director of Spain’s intelligence services.
I have a very, very strong sense of the fact that harassment of this nature should never happen again to anyone in Spain. If we create a case law where people no longer have immunity from the law, when they abuse or harass vulnerable people, whether it be women, children, foreign staff, or anyone really, that this idea that they’re covered by sovereign immunity and therefore not accountable and not liable, is something that should belong to the past.
The case is pioneering. But it’s a fight. Juan Carlos tried to challenge the jurisdiction of the English Courts. His argument? Once a royal, forever a royal, citing the UK’s State Immunity Act of 1978 which gives the all clear for “a sovereign or other head of state.”
But in March 2022, the judge ruled that Spain’s “sovereign or other head of state” was not Juan Carlos, but his son, King Felipe VI. Juan Carlos cannot be protected by the crown. And because he lives a life of luxury in Abu Dhabi, and not in Spain, he is no longer considered part of Spain’s royal house.
In July 2022, Juan Carlos filed an appeal to claim immunity for the period before his abdication in 2014.
Corinna’s lawyers say the trial could be held sometime in 2023.
But the story of Corinna and the king is not just about abuse of power or the discovery of huge pools of wealth. It’s changed how Spaniards see the royal house, says David Jiménez, the former editor-in-chief of El Mundo.
DAVID JIMENEZ (27:56):
I think the biggest impact is that the complete immunity that the monarchy had in Spain against journalism or against the truth is gone. And it’s gone probably forever. They will never enjoy the same kind of immunity from tough investigative journalists that they had in the decades previous to the discovery of the corruption with Juan Carlos. I think it’s going to be much more difficult for the current king to keep the institution alive. Regarding King Juan Carlos, people who are close to him think that he end up believing his own lies. And this happens a lot to dictators. We have seen it with Putin and others. He was, of course, not a dictator, but he was treated like one in Spain. The media didn’t criticize him at all. We hide any of the mistakes he made. We praise everything from him, from his family, from his actions. And in a sense, we gave him the journalistic protection that dictators enjoy in so many places. And now he is ending with a very empty, lonely, aging state of life where he will probably look for redemption and getting back some of the prestige he had. But I think that is impossible. I think that it’s gone.
For now, Corinna has managed to resuscitate her company and has found a new line of business, one inspired by the troubles she’s faced.
My new activity revolves around solving financial wrongdoing and sanctions related crimes. So I’m now actually working unexpectedly in a field that I was forced to confront through this harassment ordeal. I’m busy for as many hours of the day as I can.
And while Corinna is determined to seek justice…
They go through in… chronologically…
…her relationship with Juan Carlos is still complicated. Her son Alexander, after all, once looked to the king as a second father.
He went to the Anglo-Hispanic kindergarten here, called Peques in Fulham.
Corinna points to a photograph of her son as a baby, attending London’s top-ranked nursery Peques, which offers Spanish, Mandarin, and yoga classes for babies. And then, fast forward a few years in Spain…
This would be a long weekend or a few days. So the kids, both Nastassia and Alexander would travel with me, and you can see they would do what normal kids do, go to the wax museum or to an amusement park, a zoo, the Corte Inglés.
The kids are smiling in every photo, delighted at their Spanish adventure.
This is Alexander falling asleep and clowning around, and the king made him a makeshift bed in the restaurant, but it was always that level of intimacy.
Juan Carlos still holds many memories.
And then here’s Alexander accompanying me to the Laureus World Sports Awards in Barcelona.
It’s a formal dinner. The lineup is impressive, including Edwin Moses, the US Olympic hurdler and gold medal winner.
But at the center, King Juan Carlos, with his son, then Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia. The king sees little Alexander, then just five or six years old.
He just bends down, opens his arms and hugs him and lifts him up. It’s just very natural. There was never any awkwardness, even in front of his adult children, in terms of showing his affection for my children, especially Alexander, who was so young at the time.
The photos of her children and her ex are intimate, candid, happy. There are others taken at the casita she shared with the king, and then at her first husband Philip’s place in Cambridgeshire. It’s almost as if the photos are a true reflection of reality. Rather than what actually happened.
What you could never predict is that you’re dealing with a split personality, with someone who turns into a stalker, someone who harasses you, tries to incarcerate you, wants to destroy your family. I think no one who’s ever met him would meet him and detect this capability. And that is part of why he’s been able to do it for so long.
Was it the ultimate deception? Or was it all over a broken heart? Corinna knows only one thing. It’s too late for lo siento.
An apology is always an apology, and an apology can have merit or not. I think a simple apology doesn’t really do it in this case. This is 10 years of destroying an entire family. To set the record straight for my children has really been a driving motivation in all of this, that helps me make sense of getting out of bed another day, and looking at another 100 pages of documents. It is so that they feel that their mother is an honest, decent person who’s never lied to them.
The pages of this story are still turning. Former royal correspondent Ana Romero is among the millions in Spain still waiting for the next twist in the tale.
ANA ROMERO (33:49):
When you ask what people say about her, it has been changing along the years. It’ll probably continue changing because when he was still a king, people were trying to protect him, so there was silence. The people were trying to say nothing. Then when they broke up, and the relationship changed , we come to the end, or the so called end, where she’s suing him, the narrative has changed again. It could have been a beautiful love story and it was not.
Like it or not, kings are etched into history. They’re known for their heroism, glittering lives and noble blood. Juan Carlos saved democracy in Spain and is still adored by a huge swath of the country.
But it’s only when we draw back the curtains to see the hidden dimensions – the money, the greed, the envy, and anger – that we can make a true judgment on their legacy.
Juan Carlos will live the rest of his life like a king and Corinna like a princess, but history is still a rough draft. The monarchy is not built from stone, but blood and flesh. In our fairy tale, there are still more chapters to come.
Corinna and the King is a production of Project Brazen in partnership with PRX.
It’s hosted by me, Mishel Prada. Bradley Hope and Tom Wright are executive producers. Sandy Smallens is the executive producer for Audiation. Núria Net and Alex García Amat are executive producers for La Coctelera Music. Mark Lotto and Jimena Marcos are the story editors for the series. Alex García Amat is the sound design supervisor and composer. Mariángel Gonzales is senior producer. Farah Halime Hope is lead scriptwriter. Megan Dean and Soobin Kim are scriptwriters and associate producers. Ana González is a reporter for the project. Ireland Meacham is producer and Selena Seay-Reynolds is production coordinator. Francesca Gilardi Quadrio Curzio is associate producer. Lucy Woods is associate producer and head of research. Daniel Durán is editor for the English and Spanish versions, as well as sound designer. Matt Noble is editor for the English version. Matt Bentley-Viney is recordist. Joan Alonso is assistant editor. Ryan Ho is the creative director for the project. Andrija Klaric is video editor and designer. Laura Gómez is the host of the Spanish version. Translations by Paloma García Cruz. The voice actors are Eva Magaña, Ana Clements, Francine Belanger, Alex Marrero, Luis Alberto Casado, Antonio Soto Patiño and José María del Río. Additional music arranged and performed by José de Lucía with vocals by Adriana López “La Pimienta.”
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