The JRM 2004 Trust: British charitable organization considers multimillion-dollar donation from fund linked to Spain’s embattled ex-monarch | International

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Spain’s former monarch Juan Carlos I at the 40th anniversary of the Spanish Constitution in 2018.Europa press

The UK Refugee Council, a non-profit organization helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK, has received good news: it could soon be the recipient of a multimillion-dollar donation. The funds would come from the JRM 2004 Trust, an opaque financial vehicle created on the island of Jersey and the target of an investigation by prosecutors at Spain‘s Supreme Court to determine if the money originally belonged to Juan Carlos I. The former Spanish monarch abdicated the throne in 2014 amid falling popularity, and in August 2020 he fled Spain, where he was being investigated over financial irregularities, and settled in the United Arab Emirates.

The British NGO, founded in 1951, has been weighing for weeks whether to accept or reject the generous annual donation of around one million euros from the childless widower Joaquín Romero Maura, who died in June at the age of 81 in a nursing home in Zaragoza, Spain. A former banker with a PhD in history from Oxford University, he was also considered a trusted advisor to Juan Carlos and the keeper of one of the latter’s best-kept secrets: its founding in 2004 at 50 rue La Colombiere in St Helier, the capital of the tiny tax haven in the Channel Islands, a trust which they named with the initials of Romero Maura, JRM. A total of €14,923,604 was deposited in his name. The origin of this wealth is not entirely clear.

due diligence

The Refugee Council’s headquarters are in a simple three-storey glass building in Stratford, East London, about 40 minutes by tube from central London. Since last August, senior officials at the nonprofit organization have been considering accepting the donation from Romero Maura, whose final wishes were conveyed to them last summer by the legal department that manages the foundation, EL PAÍS has learned.

The presence of a foreign journalist inquiring about CEO Enver Solomon arouses the curiosity of the three employees working on the first floor of the building. A friendly social worker appears, but puts on a poker face as the reporter explains the reason for the visit: “Have you received the donation from Mr. Romero Maura, friend of the King Emeritus of Spain, yet?”

The face of Tamsin Baxter, Executive Director of Fundraising and External Affairs, instead reflects composure and caution. She receives EL PAÍS in a tiny office with stacks of books and brochures about refugee aid on the floor and accepts the donation. “We haven’t received it yet. We conduct due diligence before making any decision.” She explains that when such large amounts of money are involved, they have an obligation to investigate the donor, the source of the funds and the reasons for the donation.

Baxter is not disclosing the NGO’s preliminary views on the donation, but says the Refugee Council will make an autonomous decision without consulting the UK Government’s Charities Commission, a monitoring body. According to her, the nonprofit organization has declined donations in the past. “The investigation into this case in Spain has been put on hold, hasn’t it?” she asks. “Why did this man choose us? We do not know it. I think he was someone who wanted to help refugees. It’s a very significant donation. I can’t tell you more.”

If the Refugee Council accepts the gift, the trustees will donate about €1 million each year, until the money is used up from a €10.6 million balance in accounts at Investec Bank in Guernsey, another small English channel. This would fulfill Romero Maura’s wish, which he detailed in documents collected during the investigation by Spanish anti-corruption prosecutors and the Supreme Court. Baxter points out that the amount is actually less than what was stated in the inquest, but declined to reveal the exact amount.

Prosecutors eventually dropped this case after finding no evidence linking the JRM 2004 Trust to Juan Carlos I, either as a trustee or as someone with the ability to dispose of the funds. Investigators stressed that the former monarch was never a beneficiary, nor was there any evidence that he received any money from him.

wealth of uncertain origin

The origins of the trust are mysterious. The investigation did not reveal where the 14.9 million euros came from, apart from the fact that this amount was the result of the liquidation of two other trusts called Tartessos and Hereu, founded in 1995 and 1997 by Manuel Jaime de Prado and Colón de Carvajal , another close friend of Juan Carlos I, who upon royal appointment served as a senator in Spain’s first Congress after the transition to democracy in the late 1970s. The head of state was the sole beneficiary of both financial instruments at the time.

As this newspaper was able to ascertain, part of the fortune came from Nadine Limited, a company based in the British Virgin Islands with an account in Prado’s name at Chartered Bank. This account received donations from unidentified people who supported Juan Carlos I between the 1950s and 1970s (he became king in November 1975 at the request of the dying dictator Franco, who hoped the young king would continue his authoritarian regime). But the bulk of the funds lead to a $9 million donation in 1999 from Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, better known as Simeon of Bulgaria, which came from investments in JP Morgan of Switzerland. The purpose of both trusts was to support the new monarch Juan Carlos I should he be deposed in a coup d’etat, according to their administrator, British citizen John Ruddy.

In December 2003, almost 10 years after Juan Carlos I emerged as the exclusive beneficiary of this hidden fortune, Romero Maura met with Ruddy and the Spanish King and explained that the trusts had lost their original purpose because the political situation in Spain was stable but that if public opinion ever found out about its existence, “it would be embarrassing for the monarchy”.

As Romero told the managers of the new trust, The Spanish head of state decided to give him all the money from these funds “considering their long-standing friendship and his family’s services to the monarchy for generations”. Juan Carlos, he said, authorized him to use the money as he pleased, “including allocating it to others who may need it, in the same circumstances as King Juan Carlos I did in the past.”

Various candidates for charity

The first time a charity has emerged as a potential recipient of funds from the JMR 2004 Trust was on February 10, 2014, a decade after its inception. In addition to his own name and that of his wife Gudrun Lawetz, who had died a year earlier, Romero Maura counted the British associations Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity among the beneficiaries. Three years later, on January 23, 2017, he added the Refugee Council to the list, which has since been listed as the sole beneficiary following the historian’s recent death.

But Romero Maura’s intent to benefit a charity was reflected in other documents well before 2014. As early as 2005, he had informed the trustees in successive letters that he would be the primary beneficiary of the funds during his lifetime and his wife alone upon death. However, he also emphasized his wish that after the death of both of them, the fortune should be used for charitable and social purposes, especially for children. Documents obtained by prosecutors during the investigation of the trust reflect the meeting Romero Maura had with two senior officials from the Refugee Council, the head of philanthropy at Barclays Bank and executives at Zedra Trust Company (Jersey), one of the Trust’s administrators. The donation required a satisfactory verification of the UK charity’s accounts.

Romero Maura dove into the trust money on multiple occasions, the prosecution investigation found based on the testimony of trust manager John Ruddy. In the foundation’s first year of operation and by March 31, 2005, Romero Maura had received nearly $2.5 million from the JRM 2004 Trust and used the money to buy properties for himself and his wife in the UK and Switzerland. Between 2013 and 2016 there are at least eight other transactions totaling approximately $2.3 million in his name, but none to third parties. In the 22 years of its existence the Trust has been very little active other than paying management fees.

The third unnamed beneficiary

That JRM 2004 Trust had an enigmatic and possible third beneficiary for several years, who was never named. According to a letter dated 17 July 2009 from Romero Maura to the Trustees, this beneficiary would only be used in what he describes as “troubled times” circumstances. This third party beneficiary would be a former head of state who lost that position as a result of a coup or disqualifying circumstance. This person can be a monarch, but also other civil servants recognized by a liberal democratic constitution. The letter asked the trustees to consult with him, Romero Maura, on the identity of this third party beneficiary and he proposed, in case of doubt, to determine this identity according to the criteria of the majority of public opinion expressed by the editors the top 5 British newspapers. The historian asked that $10 million be set aside for this case.

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