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IN PICS: Crowds gather to greet Spain’s exiled ex-king on first visit back

Spain's former king attended a regatta in Galicia on Friday on a controversial first trip home after nearly two years in exile following a string of financial scandals. "Long live the king!" and "scoundrel" were both heard from the crowd of bystanders and journalists present.

IN PICS: Crowds gather to greet Spain's exiled ex-king on first visit back
Spain's former King Juan Carlos I gives a thumbs up as he arrives at the nautical club in the Galician town of Sanxenxo, northwestern Spain, on May 20, 2022, ahead of InterRias trophy of 6M Spanish Cup. (Photo by BRAIS LORENZO / AFP)

Although prosecutors have closed their probes into Juan Carlos I’s affairs, 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.

Pulling up to the sailing club in the resort town of Sanxenxo, the 84-year-old — who flew in from Abu Dhabi on Thursday evening — was greeted by dozens of well-wishers, and a crowd of journalists.

As he got out of the car wearing a white top, cream vest and salmon slacks and began shaking hands with supporters, there were cries of “Long live the king!”

Spain’s former King Juan Carlos I (L) waves to the crowd from a car as he arrives in Sanxenxo, northwestern Spain. (Photo by Brais Lorenzo / AFP)

But there were also a few cries of dissent with one man shouting “scoundrel” — a possible reference to the financial scandals that prompted Juan Carlos to move to Abu Dhabi in self-imposed exile in August 2020.Hobbling along with his cane and holding onto the arm of an aide, the ex-monarch beamed as he greeted the crew of his yacht, the “Bribón” — Spanish for “rascal”.

Crowds cheer as Spain’s former King Juan Carlos I arrives at the nautical club in the Galician town of Sanxenxo. (Photo by Brais Lorenzo / AFP)

The six-metre (20-foot) racing yacht is the same vessel with which he and his crew won the world sailing title in 2017 and 2019.

It was unclear whether he would be joining them aboard for the race. He has not sailed for some three years, Spain’s RTVE public television said.

Spain’s former King Juan Carlos I (3rdR) prepares to board his “Bribón” boat with the help of his walking stick and his entourage. (Photo by Brais Lorenzo / AFP)

The former monarch will stay with a close friend in Sanxenxo until Monday when he travels to Madrid for a brief visit with his wife Sofia, his son King Felipe VI and other family members.

He will leave for Abu Dhabi later on Monday, the palace said.

News of the disgraced former king’s impending arrival sparked a backlash earlier this week.

“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 on Thursday.

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

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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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