Three months after Spain’s disgraced former king Juan Carlos I left Spain for the United Arab Emirates following on-going investigations concerning corruption scandals, he is now at the centre of a new investigation.
On Tuesday Spain’s attorney general instructed Supreme Court prosecutors to investigate a new case, which up to now had been handled by Spain’s anti-corruption office. Although further details were not released by the attorney general’s office, it is believed to centre around allegations also reported this week by online newspaper ElDiario.es. According to ElDiario.es, anti-corruption prosecutors had been investigating Juan Carlos, his wife Sofía, as well as other members of the Spanish royal family – reportedly some of their grandchildren – over the use of credit cards linked to bank accounts not held under their own names, and with money coming from outside Spain.
The same sources mentioned by the online newspaper also said that current king Felipe VI, as well as his wife Letizia and two daughters, are not implicated in the investigation.
According to ElDiario.es, the alleged credit card activity was carried out ‘at least from 2016 to 2018’, meaning after Juan Carlos lost his immunity as head of state after he abdicated in 2014. Apart from some of their grandchildren, two other individuals have been linked to the investigation: a Mexican businessman and a Spanish Guardia Civil official.
This is now the second case involving Spain’s former king that has ended up with the Supreme Court’s attorney general [see further details below].
On 2 August, news broke that Juan Carlos had ‘fled Spain’ following the on-going investigations concerning corruption scandals. It was later confirmed by the Spain’s royal household that the former king been in the United Arab Emirates since 3 August.
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Other Investigation into former king
Juan Carlos I is already 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 2014 apparently put an end to his immunity.
On 14 March, British newspaper The Telegraph published revelations that Felipe was 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.
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.
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 Saudi entrepreneur, 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.
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