Juan Carlos announced the move yesterday in a letter to his son, the reigning king Felipe VI. He said his decision would help his son fulfill his role properly in light of “the public repercussions of certain events that have been in the past in private life.” The king thanked him for the decision.
Prosecutors in Spain and Switzerland have begun investigating an affair that raises suspicions of bribery and money laundering, following reports that Juan Carlos received 85 million euros ($ 100 million) from Saudi King Abdullah, who died in 2015. According to reports, the money was transferred to a secret account in Switzerland in 2008, and the king transferred a significant part of the amount to whoever was his mistress.
In June, the Supreme Court began investigating Juan Carlos’ part in the deal to build a high-speed rail line between the cities of Mecca and the state of Saudi Arabia. The deal, valued at $ 6.7 billion, was signed three years after the money was transferred from Saudi Arabia to Juan Carlos.
When Juan Carlos relinquished the crown in 2014 and passed it on to his son Felipe he lost his immunity. Juan Carlos’ lawyer said he intends to cooperate with the plaintiffs. Officially he is not currently considered a suspect, and is therefore not defined as an escaped offender.
Commentators said today that the former king did live in exile, but did not flee the country. “He did not leave voluntarily,” said Paloma Roman, a political science professor from Madrid. She added that the government and his son Felipe pressured him to leave. According to her, Felipe “always tried to soften the blows” suffered by the royal family, which has been shaken due to a series of scandals in recent years.
“It’s not a king who runs away, it’s a king who is kicked out,” said Abel Hernandez, a journalist who has written several books about the former king. Juan Carlos “is leaving to avoid a situation where his problems will contaminate the monarchy,” he added.
The former king did not specify in a letter to his son where he intends to live. According to some media in Spain he is in the Dominican Republic and stays there with friends. A source at the royal palace said his wife Sophia was still in Spain. The two have reportedly been separated for a long time.
One of the newspapers the former king’s reporter is currently in Portugal. Some of his associates said today that Juan Carlos wants to return to Spain soon. One of his associates said he might do so as early as September.
Felipe VI’s biographer, Jose Afzarna, said the move abroad “will not change anything” for Juan Carlos but for his son. “He does it for his son, not for himself. For his son and for no one else.”
Paloma Roman says the former king chose “at the best moment strategically” to announce his departure. “It’s summer now, there’s a spike in those infected in Corona, and people don’t notice it because people are focused on other worries.”
Many Spanish newspapers chose to defend the former king’s achievements. “The disappointment that Juan Carlos has provided in recent years for his tenure cannot make us forget his irreplaceable contribution to the progress of the Spaniards and their freedom for nearly a decade,” wrote the left-wing Al-Pais newspaper. The paper added that it would be irresponsible to deal with the issue now, as Spain needs stability.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said he respects the royal family’s decision. “People should be judged, not institutions. In this case Juan Carlos has clearly said that he is available to the justice system if necessary, like any Spaniard,” he stressed at a press conference.
The left-wing Podemos party, which is a member of the coalition, was tougher and said Juan Carlos was “trying to escape the law” and question the future of the monarchy in Spain. The Metroscopy polling institute said the Spanish public trusted Juan Carlos and King Felipe, as the former king had promised to cooperate with the investigation and the current king won the trust of 70% of Spaniards.
Juan Carlos was appointed king after the death of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, and over the years he was highly respected for promoting democracy in his country. The last years of his tenure were full of scandals and public support for him weakened. In June 2014 he handed over the crown to his son after 39 years in office. As stated, with the transfer of the crown he lost his immunity from prosecution.
This year, King Felipe took an unusual step in an attempt to distance himself from his father, when he decided to deprive him of his royal allowance – 194,000 euros a year – amid reports he received millions from the King of Saudi Arabia.