The $65 million question about a king, a princess and a Shropshire country house
According to villagers, you couldn’t want a better person to live near to you.
But Corinna Sayn-Wittgenstein, the ex-wife of a German prince, has placed the village of Claverley at the centre of a story that has fascinated people across Europe.
It involves secret agents, mysterious offshore companies and the small matter of a $65 million gift from her ex-lover, the former King of Spain.
According to one friend, the Danish-born entrepreneur leads a quiet life at the 11-bedroom Chyknell Hall, but is always happy to help out in village activities where she can. But she has found herself at the centre of claims that Juan Carlos, the former King of Spain, used her to transfer $65 million of illegal payments from Saudi Arabia.
The controversy has come as something of a surprise to people living in the tranquil village, which is not used to being in the media spotlight.
“Most of us in Claverley keep ourselves to ourselves, and do what we can within our own community,” says one villager.
When asked about the money laundering claims, he adds: “I don’t know anything about that, you will have to ask somebody in Spain, a member of the Royal Family. All I know is she is a good neighbour who leads a quiet life, while trying to get involved with village life to what extent she can. I think she is a very convenient lightning rod for Juan Carlos.”
While she has largely kept a low profile since she moving to the area, she and her son, Prince Alexander, opened a classic car show to raise funds for All Saints’ Church in 2017. Kay White, the village postmistress for 60 years, says the only time she ever sees Corinna is on VJ Day, when she takes part in a small service. Another resident says she is known for holding shoots on the estate.
Juan-Carlos, who reigned from 1975 to his abdication in 2014, has been married to Queen Sofia for 58 years. But he was also in a relationship with Corinna from 2005 to 2009, and the present investigations relate to $65 million he paid into a Swiss bank account belonging to his ex-mistress in 2012.
Corinna claims the King was planning to marry her, and gave her the money as a gift. But an investigation by the Swiss authorities is looking into whether the money was connected to an alleged illegal payments on a Spanish consortium’s bid for a high-speed railway in Saudi Arabia.
Corinna claims she has been kept under surveillance by the Spanish security services for the past eight years, and blames them for a break-in at the hall three years ago. In February she announced she would be taking legal action against the Spanish state.
She claims the country’s intelligence service, CNI, has spent millions on a campaign of harassment, hacking and disabling her phones and computers, and disconnecting a panic button in her bedroom. She says she has also been subjected to a campaign of libellous ‘fake news’ on the internet, and a sustained attempt to brainwash her children into believing she was corrupt.
Most intriguing of all is the 2017 break-in, where she claims an unknown intruder made his way past the dogs, alarms and security men without detection, and cut a circular disc of glass from a window. Nothing was stolen during the break-in.
Corinna’s secret romance with Juan Carlos, who is 82, came to light after the king was injured during an elephant-hunting trip in Botswana in 2012. The incident happened three years after the end of the affair, but Corinna was with him at the time. She says she was then targeted by the royal establishment, which was pressuring the king to abdicate and remove her from the picture.
“From the moment I came back from that trip I was under full-blown surveillance,” she says. “This was the beginning of a campaign to paint me as this Wallis Simpson, Lady Macbeth, evil character who’d led this wonderful man astray on this trip during a big economic crisis.”
She claims that after failing to rekindle the romance, Juan Carlos demanded his money back.
Allegations have now appeared in the Spanish press suggesting Swiss authorities, as part of their investigations, have looked at the purchase of Chyknell Hall.
The grade II listed house was sold for an undisclosed sum, having been on the market for £7.5m. At the time, agent Knight Frank said a confidentiality agreement prevented the disclosure of the sale.
Spanish newspaper El Pais claims Corinna told Swiss prosecutors she bought the house for her son, who was 13 at the time. El Pais claims the chief prosecutor in Geneva is investigating the purchase of the property because it followed the gift from the king, and an ‘opaque structure’ used to buy it.
Corinna’s lawyers deny the purchase is being investigated, dismissing it as another component of a ‘fake news’ campaign. They add: “Our client is keen for progress to be made in the investigation in Switzerland and welcomes the opportunity for the truth to be fully explored in public.”