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MONARCHY

Spain’s king slammed over plans to attend Qatar World Cup

The junior partner in Spain's leftist coalition government on Monday criticised King Felipe VI's plans to visit Qatar later this week to attend the Spanish team's opening World Cup match.

SPAIN-KING-QATAR
Spain's King Felipe and Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attend the state funeral of late Tunisian president Essebsi in 2019. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / POOL / AFP)

Host of global football’s premier event, wealthy Qatar has come under heavy criticism over its treatment of foreign workers and its rights restrictions on women and the LGBTQ community.

The presence of top government representatives at the tournament which kicked off on Sunday has been the subject of fierce debate in several European nations.

Gerardo Pisarello, a lawmaker with the hard-left Podemos party, told a news conference that it was “unfortunate” to hear the Royal Palace announce the king would travel to Qatar without “making any critical objections about what is happening there”.

“We have certainly never had a football World Cup raising so many questions about human rights abuses since the 1978 World Cup in Argentina,” which was organized under a military dictatorship, he added.

Podemos is the junior partner in Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s coalition cabinet, which has governed Spain since January 2020.

It has long been critical of the monarchy, which it would like to see abolished.

Spain’s Royal Palace announced last week that the king would attend Spain’s opening match against Costa Rica on Wednesday.

Denmark has been one of the most vocal opponents of Qatar’s hosting of the tournament due to its human rights record.

Over the weekend, the Danish government announced that no ministers nor the Danish ambassador would attend the opening ceremony or any matches.

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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

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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