Spain's former king Juan Carlos to go into exile after financial scandal

Graham Keeley
·4 min read

Juan Carlos I, the disgraced former king of Spain, is quitting the country and going into exile abroad in the wake of a series of damaging financial scandals.

Juan Carlos said he was leaving Spain because of the “public repercussions of certain episodes of my private life”.

In a letter to his son, King Felipe VI, published on the royal household's website, the ex-monarch wrote: “Guided by the conviction to best serve the people of Spain, its institutions and you as king, I inform you of my decision at this time to go into exile outside Spain."

Spain's former king, Juan Carlos I - pictured here in 2009 - is leaving Spain amid corruption investigations - AFP
Spain's former king, Juan Carlos I - pictured here in 2009 - is leaving Spain amid corruption investigations - AFP

King Felipe wrote back to his father, emphasizing the “historical importance of his (father's) reign as a legacy and political and institutional work of service to Spain and democracy”.

The dramatic move comes after King Felipe faced increasing pressure from within Spain's left-wing government to distance himself from his 82-year-old father after a scandal surrounding his financial affairs.

Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish prime minister, recently said he found recent revelations about the former king “disturbing”.

Juan Carlos' decision to move abroad is designed to restore the reputation of the monarchy.

Juan Carlos and his wife Queen Sofia of Spain waving to the crowds in Madrid in 2004 - AFP
Juan Carlos and his wife Queen Sofia of Spain waving to the crowds in Madrid in 2004 - AFP

However, Pablo Echenique, parliamentary spokesman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, the junior partner in Spain's coalition government, said that the former king's exile failed to resolve deep problems with the Spanish monarchy.

“What does that solve? What is fixed by that? How does this improve the monarch? How does this improve our democracy? Nothing,” he tweeted.

Javier Sanchez-Junco, a lawyer for the former king, issued a statement saying his client was not trying to escape justice by going into exile and would remain available to prosecutors.

Pablo Iglesias, Spain's deputy prime minister, said: "Fleeing Spain is an undignified act for a head of state and leaves the monarchy in a very compromised position. Out of respect for the citizens and the Spanish democracy, Juan Carlos should answer for his acts in Spain and in front of the people."

It was not clear where the former monarch, who ruled Spain for nearly 40 years until his abdication in 2014, would move to or when he would leave the Zarzuela palace outside Madrid, where he has lived for 56 years.

However, he will keep his title of King Emeritus.

The fall of a monarch who was once respected for ushering in democracy after the death of dictator General Franco began in 2018 in Switzerland when a prosecutor started an investigation into the ex-king's allegedly murky finances.

The prosecutor opened an investigation into Juan Carlos' ex-lover and the former king's lawyer and financial adviser, who are both based in Geneva.

The Swiss investigation, probing possible money laundering relating to a $100 million (£80million) gift to Juan Carlos from the king of Saudi Arabia in 2008, is still in progress.

Juan Carlos is also being investigated for the first time by Spain's Supreme Court over his role in alleged kickbacks related to a high-speed train deal in Saudi Arabia.

In March, after The Daily Telegraph revealed that Juan Carlos and his son were both named as beneficiaries of a Panama-based fund started in 2008 with the $100m “donation”, King Felipe released a statement renouncing any financial inheritance from his father. Juan Carlos was also stripped of his royal allowance.

The former king is credited with helping Spain peacefully restore democracy after the death of Franco in 1975.

In a dramatic television address to the nation in 1981, Juan Carlos sided with the forces of democracy to stand down a failed coup d'etat.

In 2012, when he was discovered on a secret elephant hunting safari in Botswana with his former mistress, public opinion began to turn against the bon vivant monarch who was fond of fast cars, women he was not married to, and yachts.

Marred by a series of scandals in the latter years of his reign, he has faced increasing hostility.

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