But the former king’s exposure to legal liability is likely to be limited. On Thursday, the Spanish Parliament is scheduled to give final approval to legislation declaring that he can only be tried by the country’s Supreme Court. In the process, the governing Popular Party has ignited a fresh debate over the fairness of the practice of shielding government officials from prosecution, especially at a time when nearly every major Spanish institution, from the royal family down, has been caught up in corruption cases.
In relation to the United States and some other European nations, Spain is more generous in granting legal protection to its officials. About 10,000 lawmakers, judges, police officers and other civil servants have some form of special legal rights that allow them to be tried only by the country’s highest courts, rather than by ordinary tribunals.
In the wake of the debate triggered by the legal status of Juan Carlos, the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced recently a broader review of Spain’s legal protection system, which is likely to limit its reach.
The review comes at a sensitive time, not only because of the royal handover but also because Spain’s courts are overloaded with corruption cases, many of which have come to the surface following the bursting of the country’s construction bubble in 2008. One of the main cases has landed on the very doorstep of Mr. Rajoy, when his party’s former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, was imprisoned ahead of a trial over whether he hid millions of euros in Swiss banks while running a slush fund to pay Mr. Rajoy and other senior party officials kickbacks from builders and other companies. Mr. Rajoy and other politicians have denied wrongdoing.
The proposal to grant Juan Carlos protection covering both criminal and civil lawsuits has upset opposition lawmakers and divided legal experts.
Juan Manuel Gómez Benítez, a former judge who now works for a private law firm, noted that officials lose their protected status once out of office, just as he lost his special status once he left the bench. But such protection, he added, had also never previously extended as far as civil lawsuits.
“The king who has abdicated is nothing more than a former head of state and as such should not get any protection,” Mr. Gómez Benítez said. “The government and its parliamentary group have acted against the constitutional principles that guarantee equality before the law and prohibit arbitrary usage of public powers.”
The government, however, has strongly defended Juan Carlos. His legal protection is “reasonable, fair and sensible,” Mr. Rajoy said last month.
Mr. Gómez Benítez suggested that the protection being considered for Juan Carlos also reflected concerns that the monarchy was already embroiled in a corruption case centered on Iñaki Urdangarin, Juan Carlos’s son-in-law. Last month, Mr. Urdangarin, some of his business associates and several regional officials were charged with embezzling millions of euros in public funds that had been meant to pay for sports events. The judge handling the case also accused Mr. Urdangarin’s wife, Princess Cristina, of tax fraud and money laundering.
Juan Carlos has not been implicated in the sports corruption case. But his image has been tainted by revelations of a sort that were previously taboo for the Spanish media. In April 2012, for instance, Juan Carlos was forced to make a public apology after going elephant hunting as Spain was enduring deep austerity.
In his speech last month when he was proclaimed king, Felipe VI, who is 46, promised transparency and integrity as part of “a renovated monarchy for a new time.”
But almost coinciding with that speech, Albert Solà Jiménez, a Catalan waiter, moved ahead with a paternity suit against Juan Carlos that was rejected two years ago because the king had immunity as head of state at that time. A Belgian woman, Ingrid Sartiau, is separately also renewing her legal efforts to support her assertion that Juan Carlos is her father.
Francesc Bueno Celdrán, the lawyer representing Mr. Solà, said the protected status of Juan Carlos was “bad news and good news” — bad in that he expected the Supreme Court to rule eventually against his client, but good in that any ruling could then be appealed before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Strasbourg-based court, Mr. Bueno Celdrán suggested, “should be far less politicized than Spain’s judiciary.”
Mr. Solà's lawsuit includes as evidence a laboratory test that matches his DNA to that found on a cup that was allegedly used by Juan Carlos and stolen by one of his security agents, according to Mr. Bueno Celdrán. The royal household did not immediately return a request for comment on the paternity claims.
Mr. Solà, who is 57, was adopted by a farming family. He said that he was not interested in the Spanish throne, and that his lawsuit was not seeking financial compensation.
“I’m asking for recognition, nothing more,” he said.
Source : http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/10/world/europe/plan-to-give-former-king-immunity-splits-spain.html?ref=europe&_r=0