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King Juan Carlos under fire for meeting Saudi crown prince

Former Spanish King Juan Carlos was under fire Monday after a photo emerged of him meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has been tainted by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

King Juan Carlos under fire for meeting Saudi crown prince
The photo was posted on the Twitter account of the Saudi foreign ministry.

The photo, which was released on the Twitter account of the Saudi foreign ministry (@KSAmofaEN), was published in several Spanish newspapers.

 

#CrownPrince met with former King of #Spain, and #CrownPrince of #Dubai on the sidelines on of the final round of the World Formula 1 championship in #AbuDhabiGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/BzOYpwamaI

— Foreign Ministry ?? (@KSAmofaEN) November 25, 2018

    

Conservative daily El Mundo ran it along with the headline: “The photo of shame”.

Far-left parties Podemos and Izquierda Unida which oppose the monarchy criticised the unexpected meeting between the former monarch and the de facto Saudi ruler at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday. 

 “It is humiliating Spain and Spaniards,” wrote Pablo Echinique, a leading member of Podemos, on Twitter.

Izquierda Unida leader Alberto Garzon questioned the Spanish royal family's friendships, saying on Twitter they are a “faithful reflection of an era that has to end”.

“The Spanish monarchy is a problem not just for the Spanish people as this photograph shows. It's not a simple photo, it is a symbol,” he added.   

Juan Carlos, 80, has long had close ties with the Saudi royal family which has helped Spain to land lucrative contracts in the oil-rich kingdom.   

He abdicated in 2014 after several scandals in favour of his son Felipe VI, who has tried to restore the monarchy's reputation.   

In an online article, El Mundo said the former monarch “is obliged to… have a vision of the state and a sense of opportunity. And right now it is not appropriate to be photographed with the Saudi crown prince.”

Saudi Arabia has faced intense global criticism over the killing of insider-turned-critic Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate on October 2nd.   

He was reportedly dismembered in what Saudi Arabia said was a “rogue” operation but CIA analysis leaked to the US media has pointed the finger at Prince Mohammed.

Riyadh has repeatedly and insistently rejected any suggestion the prince was connected to the killing.

READ MORE: Spanish PM defends selling arms to Saudi despite journalist's death

ROYALTY

‘Alone and bored’: A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain’s ex-king

A year after Spain's former King Juan Carlos went into self-imposed exile in the face of mounting questions over his finances, he remains under a cloud of suspicion that complicates his return home.

'Alone and bored': A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain's ex-king
Juan Carlos I's close ties with Gulf leaders have allowed him to live in opulent exile in Abu Dhabi for a year. Photo: KARIM SAHIB / AFP

He announced on August 3, 2020 he was moving abroad to prevent his personal affairs from undermining his son King Felipe VI’s reign and sullying the monarchy.

But his choice of new home — the United Arab Emirates, where some of his business affairs triggered the scandals that tainted his reputation in the first place — only raised Spaniards’ eyebrows further.

Juan Carlos has told his son that he would like to return to Spain “but he won’t come back without the approval” of the royal household, said Jose Apezarena, the author of several books on Felipe.

And the position of the royals is that “until his legal problems end, he should not return”, Apezarena told AFP.

The 83-year-old former king is the target of three separate investigations over his financial dealings, including those linked to a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia that was awarded to a Spanish consortium.

Prosecutors in Spain and Switzerland are looking into suspicions he received kickbacks for facilitating the deal.

The suspicions centre on $100 million (€85 million) that Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah allegedly deposited in 2008 into a Swiss bank account to which Juan Carlos had access.

The other two investigations concern the alleged existence of a trust fund in Jersey linked to Juan Carlos and the undeclared use of credit cards linked to accounts not registered in his name, a possible money-laundering offence.

‘Very bored’

Spanish monarchs have immunity during their reign but Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 following a series of health problems and embarrassing revelations about his personal life, leaving himself vulnerable to prosecution.

While he has not been charged with any crime, the probes have tainted his reputation as a leader of Spain’s democratic transition following the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Outside of the Royal Palace in central Madrid, opinions were divided.

“He is being judged without any evidence, he should be able to come home if that’s what he wants,” said Pura Fernandez, 46, a bank worker.

But delivery rider Angel Galan, 27, was less sympathetic.

“He may have done some great things for Spain but if he committed irregularities I am not sad that he is gone,” he said.

While in exile, Juan Carlos has twice settled tax debts with Spanish authorities for a total of more than €5 million.

But he has otherwise kept a low profile at the villa on the island of Nurai off the coast of Abu Dhabi where he now lives.

“He is alone and very bored,” said Apezarena.

Photo: KARIM SAHIB / AFP

‘Not normal’

When reports emerged in February that Juan Carlos was in poor heath, the former monarch told online Spanish daily OKDiario he was “well, exercising two hours daily” in his only comments to the media since moving abroad.

Abel Hernández, a journalist and expert on the monarchy, said he believes Juan Carlos will return to Spain by the end of the year.

“He has not been charged with anything and has regularised his situation with the tax office. It does not seem normal that he remains outside of the country,” Hernández told AFP.

The scandals swirling around Juan Carlos have provided ammunition for those wanting to abolish the monarchy.

The far-left party Podemos, which is the junior partner in Spain’s coalition government, has called for a parliamentary investigation into Juan Carlos’s wealth.

Felipe, meanwhile, has sought to distance himself from his father.

Last year the king renounced his inheritance from Juan Carlos, and stripped the ex-monarch of his palace allowance after new details of his allegedly shady dealings emerged.

Polls show support for the monarchy has inched up since Juan Carlos moved abroad although a survey published Sunday in conservative daily La Razon found 42.9 percent of Spaniards feel Juan Carlos’s legal woes were hurting Felipe’s reign.

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