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ROYALTY

Spanish government opposed to ex-king’s informal return

After nearly two years in exile following a string of financial scandals, Spain's former king makes his first trip home Thursday, on a brief visit that has sparked widespread criticism among members of Spain's left-wing coalition government.

Spanish government opposed to ex-king's informal return
Former King Juan Carlos I (L) and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (R) at commemorative acts marking the 40th anniversary of the Spanish Constitution at the parliament in Madrid on December 6, 2018. (Photo by CURTO DE LA TORRE / AFP)

Although prosecutors closed their probes into Juan Carlos I’s affairs in March, revelations about the murky origins of his fortune have done irreparable damage to a figure once revered for his role in Spain’s transition to democracy following decades of dictatorship.

“What we’ve heard in recent years has been very worrying for everyone regarding the institution of the head of state,” Economy Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Nadia Calviño told Cadena Ser radio.

“There’s no doubt we need some explanations.”

The 84-year-old former monarch arrives on Thursday evening in the northwestern resort of Sanxenxo ahead of a three-day regatta.

His yacht, the “Bribon” – Spanish for “rascal” – is participating, and is the same vessel with which he and his crew won the world sailing title in 2017.

On Monday, he travels to Madrid to visit his wife Sofia, his son King Felipe VI and other family members before leaving the same day for Abu Dhabi “where he has established his permanent residence”, the palace said late Wednesday.

He has been living there since going into self-imposed exile in August 2020.

The visit reflects the former king’s “desire to regularly visit his family and friends in Spain”, it said, indicating such gatherings would be conducted “in a private setting”.

Government opposes palace sleepover

According to Spanish media, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government strongly opposed any suggestion he be allowed to stay overnight at the royal residence, Zarzuela Palace.

The hard-line left-wing Podemos, Sánchez’s junior coalition partner, expressed outrage over his visit.

“Anyone returning to our country with a record like that of king Juan Carlos I would be arrested as soon as they crossed the border and prosecuted,” it tweeted.

After nearly 40 years on the throne, it was scandal that prompted Juan Carlos’s fall from grace, forcing him first to abdicate in 2014 and then to flee to the United Arab Emirates, dogged by allegations of financial corruption.

In announcing his departure in 2020, the former monarch said he was leaving due to “the public repercussions that certain past events in my private life are generating”, expressing hope Felipe could carry out his royal duties with the necessary “tranquillity and calm”.

Some 18 months later, Spanish prosecutors shelved their investigations into his finances, concluding they did “not allow for any criminal action to be brought” against him.

They cited various reasons, including a “lack of incriminating evidence, the statute of limitations, the inviolability of the head of state and tax regularisation” payments he made in recent years.

Although they confirmed identifying “sums defrauded from the Treasury” between 2008 and 2012, they said the tax authorities had managed to recover more than five million euros, “an amount corresponding to the tax dues owed”.

Since leaving, Juan Carlos has twice settled tax debts on undeclared income for over five million euros in what was widely seen as a bid to avoid being charged with a crime.

The former king is coming back to take part in a three-day regatta in which his yacht is participating. (Photo by Jaime REINA / AFP)

Legally fine, ethically questionable

“There is no longer any legal or judicial reason to stop the king emeritus from travelling to Spain but there are a wealth of ethical grounds that explain the commotion this has caused,” an El Pais editorial said Thursday.

In a bid to try and restore the image of the monarchy, Felipe VI — who took over as king in 2014 — has sought to distance himself from his scandal-hit father.

In March 2020, Felipe ended his father’s annual palace allowance, worth a reported 200,000 euros ($210,000), and renounced his own claim on what he would have inherited from the king emeritus.

Last month, he took steps with the government to increase the transparency of the monarchy with the publication of a decree requiring the palace publish its budget and make tenders public.

It also means the royal accounts will be audited, that senior palace officials must declare their personal wealth on taking up and leaving a post, and that gifts given to royals will be catalogued.

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ROYALTY

Spain opens probe into King Juan Carlos’s hunting expenses

Spain's tax office has opened an investigation into the former king's expenses during hunting expeditions, a newspaper reported Wednesday, just months after prosecutors shelved three other probes into his financial affairs.

Spain opens probe into King Juan Carlos's hunting expenses

According to El Mundo daily, the tax office has asked Juan Carlos I “to account for the origin of funds used to pay for the flights and other expenses incurred” on various hunting trips between 2014 and 2018.

The suspicion is that the hunting trips, which took place after his abdication in 2014 when he no longer benefitted from immunity as king, were paid for as a gift.

Taxpayers in Spain must declare any gifts received to the authorities within a certain timeframe.

Contacted by AFP, the tax office refused to comment.

The former king flew back to Spain last month for his first visit in nearly two years, since fleeing to Abu Dhabi to live in self-imposed exile following a string of financial scandals.

Although prosecutors closed their probes into his affairs in March, revelations about the murky origins of his fortune have done irreparable damage to a figure once revered for his role in Spain’s democratic transition after decades of dictatorship.

According to the newspaper, the sums involved do not exceed €120,000  ($129,000) per year, which is the threshold for an offence against the treasury.

Such an offence carries a penalty of between one and five years in prison.

Earlier this year, prosecutors admitted identifying “sums defrauded from the Treasury” between 2008 and 2012 but said they were dropping the case for reasons including “the inviolability of the head of state and tax regularisation” payments he made in recent years.

No more regattas… for now

Since leaving Spain in August 2020, Juan Carlos has twice settled tax debts on undeclared income for over five million euros ($5.37 million) in what was widely seen as a bid to avoid being charged with a crime.

During his brief trip home last month, which stirred much controversy, the 84-year-old attended a regatta in Sanxenxo in the north-western Galicia region then spent half a day at Madrid’s Zarzuela Palace with his son, King Felipe VI, and other family members.

He had been due to return this weekend for another regatta featuring his six-metre (20-foot) racing yacht “Bribon” (Spanish for ‘rascal’), but recently pulled out, a spokesman for the Sanxenxo sailing club told AFP.

El País newspaper said his decision was likely taken in light of the palace’s determination to avoid another controversial media spectacle such as that generated by his first trip.

It is not the first time that Juan Carlos’ passion for hunting has got him into trouble: 10 years ago, when Spain was mired in recession during the global financial crisis, it emerged that he had taken a luxury elephant hunting trip in Botswana with his former lover.

Details came out after he broke his hip and had to be flown home for surgery, prompting him to publicly apologise.

That incident shattered years of silence over his opulent lifestyle, ruining his image and triggering a string of investigations into his opaque fortune.

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