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Spain court admits paternity suit against former king

Spain’s courts agreed on Wednesday to examine a paternity suit against former king Juan Carlos by a woman claiming to be his daughter, the latest scandal to hit the monarchy.

It is the first lawsuit to be allowed against Juan Carlos, 77, since he lost his total immunity when he abdicated last June.

The court agreed to examine one of two paternity suits against him, a case brought by Belgian housewife Ingrid Jeanne Sartiau, a judicial official told AFP.

The court dismissed a second suit brought by Alberto Sola Jimenez, a Spanish waiter in his late 50s claiming to be Juan Carlos’s son, the official said.

Sola and Sartiau claim Juan Carlos fathered them before he became king in 1975. He took the throne after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco and reigned for 39 years.

Juan Carlos lost his total immunity from court proceedings after he gave up the monarchy, dogged by scandals and health problems.

He handed the crown to his son Felipe VI, 46, hoping to freshen the monarchy’s image.

Sola, an adopted child, has claimed for years that his birth mother, the daughter of a Barcelona banker, had an affair with Juan Carlos before he married Queen Sofia.

Sartiau, believed to be in her late forties, has said she began to investigate after her mother one day saw the king on television and told her; “this man is your father.”

After the king’s abdication, parliament rushed through a law giving Juan Carlos similar protection to that enjoyed by many high-ranking civil servants and politicians.

But it does not shield him completely, giving the Supreme Court sole authority to hear cases against him.

It remained unclear on Wednesday whether the decision to examine the case could be appealed.

A spokesman for the royal palace said it would not comment on the paternity matter, stating only: “We respect the independence of the judiciary.”

Constitutional law specialist Antonio Torres del Moral told AFP that an appeal against admitting the case was possible in theory.

– ‘Scandal, not succession threat’ –

Cesar de la Lama, author of an authorised biography of Juan Carlos, said the prospect of identifying an illegitimate son of Juan Carlos would not affect the line of succession.

“It would be a major scandal but not at all a dynastic problem,” he said.

“No one can deny he liked women a lot, just like Alfonso XIII,” Juan Carlos’s grandfather, who had an illegitimate son recognised by the courts in 2004, de la Lama said.

Juan Carlos’s last years on the throne saw the monarchy plunged into scandal, including a fraud investigation implicating his youngest daughter Cristina, 49. A judge last month ordered her to stand trial in that case.

That affair has fanned public anger against the monarchy and the ruling class during the recent years of economic hardship in Spain.

Juan Carlos also sparked outrage in 2012 for going on an elephant-hunting trip to Botswana at the height of the crisis.

He was flown back to Spain after breaking his hip on that trip and underwent one in a series of recent surgical operations.

Sola and Sartiau first brought paternity suits against him in 2012 citing DNA evidence.

Civilian courts then rejected those claims, citing the king’s total immunity under the constitution, which he lost when he stepped down.