Spain rife with spec­u­la­tion after for­mer king de­parts for undis­closed lo­ca­tion

Times Colonist - - World -

MADRID — Spec­u­la­tion over the where­abouts and fu­ture of for­mer monarch Juan Car­los gripped Spain on Tues­day, a day after the man who served as king for al­most four decades an­nounced he was leav­ing the coun­try for an un­spec­i­fied desti­na­tion amid a grow­ing fi­nan­cial scan­dal.

In a letter pub­lished on the royal fam­ily’s web­site on Mon­day, Juan Car­los told his son, King Felipe VI, he was mov­ing out­side Spain due to the “pub­lic reper­cus­sions of cer­tain episodes of my past pri­vate life.”

Juan Car­los, 82, is the tar­get of of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tions in Spain and Switzer­land, into pos­si­ble fi­nan­cial wrong­do­ing.

His bomb­shell an­nounce­ment took most Spa­niards by sur­prise. Nei­ther the royal fam­ily nor the gov­ern­ment dis­closed where the for­mer king was go­ing. Juan Car­los ap­peared to be phys­i­cally and fig­u­ra­tively dis­tanc­ing him­self from the rest of the fam­ily to avoid caus­ing any fur­ther dam­age to its rep­u­ta­tion.

Daily news­pa­per ABC re­ported Tues­day that Juan Car­los left Spain on Sun­day and flew via Porto, in neigh­bour­ing Por­tu­gal, to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. The daily La Van­guardia also said he was in the Caribbean coun­try, but only tem­po­rar­ily.

But El Con­fi­den­cial re­ported that Juan Car­los could still be in Por­tu­gal, where he spent part of his child­hood, or in France or Italy, where he has fam­ily and friends.

Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Pe­dro Sanchez said Tues­day he had no in­for­ma­tion on Juan Car­los’ where­abouts. He de­clined to say whether he knew about the royal plans be­fore they were an­nounced.

Nev­er­the­less, Sanchez told a news con­fer­ence he has “to­tal re­spect” for the de­ci­sion taken by the royal fam­ily “to dis­tance it­self from sus­pected ques­tion­able and rep­re­hen­si­ble con­duct by a mem­ber of the house­hold.” Sanchez called the path be­ing taken by the royal fam­ily “ap­pro­pri­ate.”

He added that dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, which hit Spain par­tic­u­larly hard, “Spain needs sta­bil­ity and ro­bust institutio­ns.”

Juan Car­los as­sumed the throne in November 1975 as King Juan Car­los I, and is cred­ited with help­ing Spain peace­fully re­store democ­racy after the death of dic­ta­tor Francisco Franco that year. But marred by scan­dals in the later years of his reign, Juan Car­los in 2014 ab­di­cated in favour of his son Felipe, los­ing the im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion the Span­ish Con­sti­tu­tion grants to the head of state.

Spain’s king has a mostly cer­e­mo­nial role. Ex­ec­u­tive power lies with the elected par­lia­men­tary gov­ern­ment.

The royal house­hold ap­pears to be try­ing to free Felipe from hav­ing close to him an un­com­fort­able fig­ure who might tar­nish the crown’s pres­tige, Univer­sity of Barcelona con­sti­tu­tional law pro­fes­sor Xavier Ar­bos said. Choos­ing Au­gust, when many peo­ple are on va­ca­tion, for the an­nounce­ment about Juan Car­los’s de­par­ture was con­ve­nient tim­ing, he told the As­so­ci­ated Press.

Ar­bos saw the for­mer king’s ab­sence from Spain pos­ing no prob­lem for pros­e­cu­tors. Juan Car­los has said he will con­tinue to co-op­er­ate in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and there are no war­rants out for his ar­rest, the pro­fes­sor said.

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

The left-wing party that is the ju­nior part­ner in Spain’s coali­tion gov­ern­ment, Unidas Pode­mos, promptly called for a pub­lic de­bate on switch­ing to a repub­lic gov­ern­ment sys­tem.

“There is no rea­son at all to keep supporting a monar­chy which doesn’t possess min­i­mum eth­i­cal stan­dards,” the party said in a state­ment late Mon­day.

But the So­cial­ist party, which leads the gov­ern­ment un­der Sanchez, has given no sign of pur­su­ing that path and de­clared its sup­port for Felipe. Even so, the prime min­is­ter re­cently said he found the de­vel­op­ments about Juan Car­los “dis­turb­ing.”

In down­town Madrid, opin­ions were di­vided.

“I think it is re­ally bad that we let him go,” in­sur­ance worker Sara Fer­nan­dez, 38, said. “He should have to stay here, return the money and do prison time, like all Spa­niards when you break the law.”

But jan­i­tor Mar Ver­dugo, 55, urged cau­tion. “We are judg­ing him with­out any ev­i­dence, so when there is a sen­tence we will see if he has done right or wrong,” she said.

Juan Car­los’s lawyer, Javier Sanchez-Junco Mans, said in an emailed state­ment that the for­mer king had asked him to make clear that even though he will be out­side Spain he in­tends to be avail­able to co-op­er­ate with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Juan Car­los can­not be tried for al­leged crimes he com­mit­ted while he was on the throne due to royal im­mu­nity. How­ever, he could po­ten­tially stand trial for acts com­mit­ted after 2014.

A state­ment from Spain’s gen­eral pros­e­cu­tor’s office in June said it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Juan Car­los re­ceived mil­lions of dol­lars in kick­backs from Saudi Ara­bia dur­ing the constructi­on of a high-speed rail­way there by a Span­ish con­sor­tium.

Span­ish King Juan Car­los in 2014, with his son, Crown Prince Felipe, left, and daugh­ter-in-law Princess Le­tizia. The for­mer king has left Spain amid a grow­ing fi­nan­cial scan­dal.

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