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Exiled King Juan Carlos confirmed to be hiding out in United Arab Emirates

Juan Carlos, the former king of Spain who went into exile this month in the face of graft allegations, is in the United Arab Emirates, the royal palace said Monday, ending the mystery on his whereabouts.

Exiled King Juan Carlos confirmed to be hiding out in United Arab Emirates
Archive image of King Juan Carlos at a meeting in UAE in 2014. Photo: AFP

Spain's former king Juan Carlos, who went into exile this month in the face of graft allegations, is in the United Arab
Emirates, the royal palace said Monday, ending the mystery over his whereabouts.

The 82-year-old, who has long had warm relations with the Gulf monarchies, “travelled to the United Arab Emirates on August 3rd and he remains there,” a spokesman said without giving further details.

In a surprise move, Juan Carlos announced on August 3 that he was leaving Spain to prevent his personal affairs from undermining his son King Felipe VI's reign, but did not say where he would be going.

The royal palace had up until now refused to reveal where Juan Carlos is living, saying he would announce it himself if necessary.   

It was first reported that he had travelled to the Dominican Republic or Portugal, where he spent part of his youth, but pro-monarchy Spanish daily ABC later said the former king had gone to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE.

While Juan Carlos is not under formal investigation, revelations by a former mistress, German businesswoman Corinna Larsen (pictured below), raise legal questions about his financial affairs which officials are looking into in Spain and Switzerland.   

The daily Tribune de Geneve has reported that a Swiss prosecutor is focusing on $100 million (€85 million) which that late Saudi king Abdullah allegedly deposited in 2008 into a Swiss bank account to which Juan Carlos had access.   

In conversations which were apparently recorded without her knowledge that were leaked to the media, Larsen claimed Juan Carlos had collected a payoff relating to a 2011 high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia that was awarded to a consortium of Spanish firms.

The 450-kilometre (280-mile) link between Mecca and Medina was inaugurated in 2018.


Photos: AFP/Wikipedia

Royal apology 

Spain's Supreme Court in June announced an investigation to determine whether the contract had involved the “crime of corruption in international transactions” and whether Juan Carlos was legally responsible — but only for
acts committed after his abdication in 2014, because of the immunity he enjoyed until then.

Juan Carlos ascended the throne in 1975 on the death of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco and ruled for 38 years before abdicating in favour of his son Felipe VI in June 2014 — just two years after he apologised to Spaniards for jetting off on an elephant-hunting trip in Africa with Larsen as Spain grappled with a financial crisis.

He was a popular figure for decades, playing a key role in the democratic transition from the Franco dictatorship which ruled Spain from 1939-1975.    

But a steady flow of embarrassing media stories about his past lifestyle and personal wealth have eroded his standing in recent years and renewed debate over the future of the monarchy in Spain.

Polls show Spaniards are roughly equally split over whether their country should remain a monarchy or become a republic.   

Older people and conservatives are more likely to back the monarchy, while younger people and leftists are more likely to oppose it. 

'Fleeing justice'

Anti-monarchist parties have accused Juan Carlos of “fleeing justice” but his lawyer has stressed that he would remain available to answer questions from prosecutors.

A majority of Spaniards, 56.2 percent, feel his decision to move abroad is “misguided”, according to a poll published Sunday in the daily ABC, with only 25.4 percent saying it was the right step.

An even greater number, 60.9 percent, believe his self-imposed exile is harmful for his son, the current King Felipe VI, according to the poll of 802 people carried out August 10-14th.

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

Earlier this year he stripped his father of his annual allowance of nearly €200,000 euros after new details of allegedly shady financial dealings emerged.    

READ ALSO: The fall from grace of former Spanish king Juan Carlos

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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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