Spanish PM backs King after poll setback

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rushed to the defence of King Juan Carlos on Monday, a day after a poll showed the monarch's approval ratings have plunged because of a corruption probe involving members of his family.

Spanish PM backs King after poll setback
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy during a press conference in Moncloa on Monday. Photo: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP

Rajoy recalled the King's role in helping to restore democracy following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975 and the decisive action he took to fend off an attempted military coup on February 23rd 1981.

On that day a section of the army seized parliament, firing shots over the heads of lawmakers, in a bid to establish another military regime.

Within hours the King — who is the head of state and commander-in-chief of the Spanish armed forces — appeared on live television in full military regalia and ordered the coup plotters back to their barracks.

"The role which the King had in Spain's transition to democracy, and after, during the undesirable events of February 23rd 1981, which we wish never took place, show who the monarch is. They demonstrate the strength of the institution," he said a news conference, which he had originally planned to hold jointly with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron, however, did not participate after hearing the news of the death of Lady Margaret Thatcher. 

"I certainly think that a large majority of Spaniards support an institution that has been very useful and very helpful for our country."

The King's popularity has dropped in recent months, especially among young people born after the attempted coup attempt, according to a poll published Sunday by El Pais newspaper.

A slim majority of Spaniards, 53 percent, disapproved of the way the 75-year-old King is carrying out his role, against 42 percent who approved.

That gave him an approval-versus-disapproval rating of -11, compared with +21 in December, the first time he has received a negative rating.

Among those aged 18 to 34, the King's approval-versus-disapproval rating was even higher, coming in at -41.

The King's popularity has suffered due to a luxurious elephant-hunting trip he took in Botswana last year while Spain is struggling through a steep recession and a corruption investigation involving his son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarin.

The case, opened at the end of 2011, is centred on allegations of embezzlement and influence-peddling against Urdangarin, who is married to the King's youngest daughter, the Infanta Cristina, and his former business partner Diego Torres.

The pair are suspected of overbilling regional governments to stage sports and tourism events, and then siphoning off money to the non-profit Nóos Institute, which Urdangarin chaired from 2004 to 2006.

Cristina was officially named a suspect in the case last week and ordered to be questioned. It is the first time a direct relation of the King has been called to appear in a court of law on suspicion of wrongdoing.

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Spain’s former king settles €4 million tax debt from exile

Spain's scandal-hit former king Juan Carlos I, who now lives in exile, has settled a debt of over four million euros with the Spanish tax authorities, daily newspaper El Pais reported Thursday.

Spain's former king settles €4 million tax debt from exile

The back taxes were due on the value of flights which he received from a private jet firm until 2018 that he did not declare, the newspaper said, citing anonymous “sources with knowledge of the operation”.

In December the 83-year-old former king, who has lived since August in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates, settled a tax debt of nearly 680,000 euros ($820,000) following a voluntary declaration of previously undisclosed income.

That settlement is linked to a probe made public last month by Spain’s attorney general.

It investigated whether the scandal-hit former king used credit cards linked to accounts not registered in his name -which could constitute a possible money-laundering offence.

The credit card payments took place after Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014, which could mean that he is not shielded by the immunity from prosecution he enjoyed as head of state.

His lawyer Javier Sanchez-Junco announced the December tax settlement but could not be reached by AFP on Thursday to confirm the report of a second settlement.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Friday, February 26th that he shared the “rejection” which the “majority” of Spaniards feel towards what he called Juan Carlos’ “uncivic behaviour”.

“An institution is not being judged,” Sanchez said. “What is being questioned is the behaviour of a person.”

He also said the current monarch, Juan Carlos’ son King Felipe VI, had his “full support”.

The former king is the target of two other investigations over his financial dealings, including those linked to a high speed train contract in Saudi Arabia.

Juan Carlos has not been charged with any crime, and his lawyers have said he would return to Spain if required for legal reasons.

A steady drip of revelations about the former king’s love life and lavish lifestyle, combined with the 2018 conviction of his son-in-law for tax fraud and embezzlement, have severely tainted the Spanish monarchy.

Since ascending to the throne in 2014, King Felipe VI (pictured above) has since taken steps to improve the monarchy’s image, such as imposing a “code of conduct” on royals.

Last year he stripped his father, Juan Carlos, of his annual allowance of nearly 200,000 euros after new details of allegedly shady financial dealings emerged.