Spain’s royal household has finally confirmed the whereabouts of former king Juan Carlos I, two weeks after he announced he was leaving the country.
It has been confirmed that he has been in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since 3 August.
Juan Carlos left the Zarzuela palace in Madrid on 2 August and then spent the night with friends in Sanxenxo, Pontevedra. He then flew by private plane the next day from Vigo airport in Galicia to Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE.
The Spanish daily newspaper ABC had reported on 7 August that the former king had flown by a private jet to Abu Dhabi rented from TAG aviation, with the registration number 9H-VBIG.
Last Wednesday in Mallorca, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had avoided even mentioning the name of the former king of Spain when he appeared briefly in front of the media after a meeting with current king Felipe VI.
It had been their first official meeting since the news that Juan Carlos had ‘fled Spain’, following on-going investigations concerning corruption scandals.
Since his departure from Spain, conflicting media reports had claimed that the former king had travelled to Portugal – with others stating that he would finally establish his place of residence in the Dominican Republic. It had even been reported that he was heading to New Zealand.
When pushed on the whereabouts of the former king, Pedro Sánchez had simply said that any communications on the issue were ‘a matter for the royal household or affected party and not the government’. He also reiterated that his conversations with the head of state remained confidential.
Spain’s royal household maintains that Juan Carlos I is a private citizen. Meanwhile he retains the honorary title of king of Spain, and is travelling with a diplomatic passport. Spain’s Interior Ministry has also confirmed that his security costs are covered by the state.
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Investigation into former king
Juan Carlos I is under investigation by the Supreme Court for allegedly receiving commissions in exchange for interceding that a Spanish consortium won a contract to build a high-speed train link to the city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.
While the Spanish Constitution states that a king cannot be judged by any means, Juan Carlos’ abdication in favour of his son, Felipe VI, in June 2014apparently put an end to his immunity.
On 14 March, British newspaper The Telegraph published revelations that Felipewas named as a beneficiary for an offshore fund allegedly containing 65 million euros. The next day, the king relinquished his father’s legacy and withdrew his allocation from the royal family’s payroll.
In May, media in Spain then reported that Juan Carlos I was given 1.7 million euros in cash by Bahrain’s sultan, Hamad bin Isa al Jalifa, in 2010.
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In July, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said he was open to an amendment of the constitution to limit the legal immunity of public officials, including the king.
As the corruption-ridden legacy of king emeritus Juan Carlos I continues to haunt the Spanish monarchy, calls to strip the crown of its constitutional inviolability have grown louder.
Also in July, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau called the Spanish monarchy ‘corrupt’ and called for a referendum to remove the monarchy and install a Republic.
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Juan Carlos – Franco’s successor – transition to democracy
Juan Carlos de Borbón is the grandson of Alfonso XIII, the last king of Spain before the abolition of the monarchy in 1931 and the subsequent declaration of the Second Spanish Republic.
Born in Rome on 5 January 1938, Juan Carlos was just 10 years old when he was put on a train to Spain. His father had agreed to have him educated under dictator Francisco Franco in the hope of one day seeing him sit on the throne himself.
Juan Carlos then spent 27 years under the shadow of Franco, growing up in a series of military academies. In May 1962 Juan Carlos married Sofia, a Greek princess.
With Franco’s blessing, the couple settled at the Zarzuela Palace near Madrid and had three children: Elena, Cristina and Felipe, who as male heir bypassed his elder sisters to the throne – and is now the present king of Spain, as Felipe VI.
Appointed by Franco as his political heir (who passed over Juan Carlos’s father, Juan de Borbon), Juan Carlos was long hailed for contributing to Spain’s transition to democracy following the dictator’s death in 1975. He took the throne within days after Franco died, in November 1975 – the first crowned head of state in 44 years, becoming Juan Carlos I.
A new system of a parliamentary monarchy was ushered in, and a new Spanish Constitution was passed by referendum in 1978.
Juan Carlos I was credited with helping to defuse an attempted coup in February 1981 by soldiers who stormed into the Spanish Congress building in Madrid, firing shots and holding MPs hostage for several hours.
The king’s appearance on television that same evening, urging support for the democratic government, was instrumental in blocking the attempt.
‘I knew the soldiers were going to agree because I had been named by Franco and was their commander-in-chief,’ he later remarked. He knew most of the officers from his own military training.
Despite the failed coup helping to endear him to the Spanish people, the king’s image suffered greatly in later years.
Whilst rumours of his numerous affairs were largely overlooked or unreported by the Spanish media for many years, his real decline started in 2012, after he accepted a luxury elephant-hunting trip to Botswana, paid for by a Saudientrepreneur, during a very tough recession in Spain.
He was accompanied on the trip by his former German mistress, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, which only came to light because he broke his right hip and was flown home for surgery. Juan Carlos I made a public apology as he emerged from hospital on crutches.
Between May 2010 and November 2013, he had surgery nine times, including two operations on his right hip and three on his left.
The 2012 incident in Botswana damaged the Spanish monarch’s reputation and is widely seen as the reason for his decision to abdicate in 2014 at the age of 76 in favour of his son Felipe VI. He then retired from public life in June 2019.
‘Faithful to the political desire of my father … I wanted to be king for all Spaniards,’ Juan Carlos said in his abdication address, recalling the day of his proclamation as king.
Now facing investigation in Spain and abroad for alleged corruption, he had become an embarrassment to the Spanish Monarchy and also the government.
Juan Carlos I might have helped Spain’s transition to democracy and he also foiled a military coup, but he heads into exile under a cloud of corruption that has now ruined his legacy.
Click here for all our reports on the Spanish Monarchy
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