Once one of Europe's most popular royals, the former King of Spain, Juan Carlos, has abandoned his native country under a cloud. Reigning King Felipe VI, shared a letter from his father in which he announced: “I am communicating my decision to leave Spain for the moment.” He maintains the decision was based on “the public repercussion that certain past events from my private life are generating.”
Juan Carlos didn’t spell out the “past events” but Spaniards know he refers to reports concerning a €6.7bn contract awarded to a Spanish consortium to build a high-speed rail line between the Saudi cities of Medina and Mecca. The former king, who abdicated in 2014, is being investigated by the Supreme Court for allegedly receiving 100 million dollars from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. No charges have yet been brought and any eventually brought may focus on events post-2014 when Juan Carlos no longer enjoyed immunity.
But the allegations Juan Carlos took payments for his role in negotiating contracts with Saudi Arabia have already damaged the reputation of the royal family despite the attempt by Felipe to put a distance between himself and his father. In March, Felipe cut off his father’s royal stipend and renounced any inheritance from Juan Carlos, who let it be known he had never told his son he would benefit from any offshore accounts.
Juan Carlos’ move out of the royal palace in Madrid and out of Spain is seen by many as the latest move by Felipe to maintain the high standards and “renewed monarchy” he promised when he took the throne in 2014. “A painful gesture to defend the crown,” said the editorial of centre-right newspaper El Mundo. “The necessary distance to the head of state”, said the editorial by centre-left newspaper El Pais.
Calls for a referendum on the monarchy
Government sources told reporters Juan Carlos’ exit abroad was negotiated between the palace and the Socialist-led government over the last two weeks. The far-left alliance Unidas Podemos, in a coalition government led by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, said it knew nothing about the talks and its leader Pablo Iglesias was criticical. “Out of respect for Spanish citizens and democracy, Juan Carlos I should respond for his acts in Spain and in front of the people,” tweeted Iglesias. Juan Carlos’ lawyer said the former king was available for prosecutors.
Spaniards let down by their former king
The Juan Carlos scandal has disappointed many Spaniards who once felt they owed him a debt of gratitude. Former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez spoke for many when he said Juan Carlos deserved the benefit of being considered innocent unless proven guilty. Generations who lived through Spain’s transition from a dictatorship to a constitutional monarchy credit the 82-year-old former king with helping deliver the democratic country they enjoy today. They remember how he helped end the 1981 coup d’état by ordering the armed Civil Guard officers to respect the democracy.
Many could forgive the former king’s unregal moments like his affairs and the time he told Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to “shut up” during an international summit. But today’s Spaniards and the Spanish courts aren’t forgiving about establishment figures abusing their power, as the conviction of Felipe’s brother-in-law Iñaki Urdangarin showed.