A country estate in a Shropshire hamlet is at the center of an international scandal involving the Spanish royal family, mysterious offshore companies and secret agents.
Chyknell Hall near Bridgnorth has taken center stage in the drama thanks to its prominent yet elusive resident, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the one-time mistress of Juan Carlos, the former King of Spain. Police were called after reports of an attempted burglary at Chyknell Hall and her lawyers say there have been “a number of other incidents” at the property. Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein alleges she has been subjected to eight years of harassment by the Spanish security services since the end of her relationship with the former king.
According to El Pais newspaper, which claimed to have seen documents showing the 2015 purchase, the property was acquired through a Panama-based foundation, whose main beneficiary is Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein’s 18-year-old son, Alexander. Built in 1814 and set in 200 acres, with shooting rights over 500 more, Chyknell Hall has 11 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, a library, wine cellar and billiard room plus a swimming pool, tennis court and its own cricket ground. There are five cottages in the grounds and 57 acres of woodland.
El Pais has reported that part of the investigation into the financial dealings of Juan Carlos involves him laundering millions of pounds through his former mistress, but her lawyers insist that the purchase of Chyknell Hall did not form part of the Swiss authorities’ investigation.
“The Talk of the Hamlet”
In 2012 Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein received $77.4 million from Juan Carlos, 82, via a Swiss account, which she has repeatedly said was a gift. Last week in an interview with the BBC, she claimed that Juan Carlos told her father he wanted to marry her and that he gave her the money out of love and gratitude. Prosecutors want to know if the king’s 2012 donation was connected to an alleged payment of illegal commissions on a Spanish consortium’s successful bid for a high-speed railway deal in Saudi Arabia.
Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein, 55, denies the claims. But fresh reports on the investigation have brought an unwelcome spotlight on Shropshire. Locals said yesterday that Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein had been “the talk of the hamlet” since she arrived.
One, who did not want to be named, said: “Corinna does not get involved much in the community but she does hold shoots on the estate and we’ve all seen the reports that said she first met the king while helping him repair his gun during a shoot. Normally, Corinna is never here, which is a shame because it’s a beautiful family estate that should be enjoyed. However, she had been here during the pandemic because apparently she owns an apartment in Monaco but that would have been too small for her during lockdown.” A representative of Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein said that she does not own a property in Monaco.
The property, which has 11 bedrooms, a tennis court, and its own cricket ground, was acquired through a Panama-based foundation.
El Pais also claims to have seen declarations to the Swiss authorities by Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein in which she stated that she had spent $8 million on renovating Chyknell Hall “as it was in poor condition”. Another local, who also did not want to be named, said: “When she moved in there was a lot of work carried out and people wondered why, it was already such a nice estate. It felt like ripping out a perfectly nice kitchen just for the sake of it.” All the fences were reinforced and lots of cameras were put up. Another local who knew one of the staff said the property was mostly used by her son and that it would be given to him “once he was old enough”.
In March Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein told The Mail on Sunday she was being kept under surveillance by the Spanish security service and suspected they had been behind a break-in at the property. She said that in 2017 a housekeeper found a disc-shaped piece of glass from her window had been removed but that nothing had been taken.
Juan Carlos, who abdicated in 2014, has been married to Queen Sofía since 1962, and had a relationship with Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein from 2004 to 2009. Ms Sayn-Wittgenstein’s lawyers, Robin Rathmell, Kobre & Kim, issued a statement yesterday with regards to inquiries about Chyknell Hall. It read: “Any suggestion that the Swiss prosecutor is investigating this specific property is false. 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, given that the investigation was itself opened in the context of a long-running campaign of disinformation and other illegal conduct against her. Our client is confident that the allegations made against her will be shown to be baseless.”