Spain's Juan Carlos gets protection as paternity suit possibility looms

MADRID Thu Jun 26, 2014 1:02pm EDT

Spanish congressmen vote on a bill that will give King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia immunity from prosecution at Spanish parliament in Madrid June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Andrea Comas

Spanish congressmen vote on a bill that will give King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia immunity from prosecution at Spanish parliament in Madrid June 26, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Andrea Comas

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's parliament passed a law on Thursday protecting former King Juan Carlos from lawsuits in Spanish civil and criminal courts, including two paternity suits filed in 2012 and 2013, to stem further damage to the monarchy's battered prestige.

The special legislation to protect Juan Carlos, who abdicated on June 2 in favor of his son Felipe, passed thanks to the majority held in parliament by the ruling center-right People's Party (PP). No other parties backed the measure.

    The two paternity suits were dismissed because of Juan Carlos's immunity as monarch, but one is under appeal. A Spanish national, Alberto Sola Jimenez, and a Belgian national, Ingrid Jeanne Satiau, both claim to be his children, according to Spanish media.

Under the legislation passed on Thursday, Juan Carlos will only answer to the Supreme Court, Spain's tribunal of last resort. Similar protection is afforded to high-ranking civil servants and people in political office in Spain.

Without the legislation, the cases could have been brought in ordinary courts.

King Felipe VI, 46, was sworn in last week in a succession widely seen as an attempt to recoup public favor for the Spanish monarchy in the wake of several scandals.

A Spanish court on Wednesday said it had formalized charges of tax fraud and money laundering against Felipe's sister Cristina de Borbon and her husband Inaki Urdangarin in one of the last steps before a trial.

Felipe's image is cleaner. But polls show Spaniards are worried about the nation's problems, and the current mood is one of distrust of the powerful as the nation suffers the consequences of a long economic crisis and political corruption cases pile up in courts.

The former treasurer of the ruling party is in preventive custody, having admitted to channeling millions of euros of cash donations from construction magnates into the pockets of party leaders.

Anti-establishment parties such as Podemos won a surprisingly large number of votes in recent European elections, reflecting unhappiness with the status quo.

(Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Julien Toyer and Sonya Hepinstall)