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Spanish ex-king's exile: flight or expulsion?

  • Marie Giffard

    Agence France-Presse

Madrid, Spain   /   Wed, August 5, 2020   /   10:30 am
Spanish ex-king's exile: flight or expulsion? In this file photo taken on May 04, 2019 Queen Sofia of Spain (L) and SpainĀ„s former King Juan Carlos I (R) arrive for the funeral ceremony of Jean d'Aviano, Grand Duke of Luxembourg in Luxembourg City. - Spain's former king Juan Carlos, who is under investigation for corruption, has announced he plans to go into exile, the royal palace said on August 3, 2020. (Belga/AFP/John Thys )

Spaniards were divided Tuesday as to whether former king Juan Carlos, who is under investigation for corruption, is trying to escape responsibility for his actions by moving abroad.

Some analysts said the 82-year-old, who has not been charged, did not have much choice even if his departure was poorly received by the public.

According to an online poll carried out by conservative and pro-monarchy daily newspaper ABC, fully 68 percent of Spaniards think Juan Carlos made the wrong decision.

"He should have stayed, it's a bit shameful that he left," said Aranzazu Catalina, a 43-year-old sales assistant at a high-end clothing shop in Madrid, a day after the ex-king made his surprise announcement that he would quit Spain.

Juan Carlos announced the move Monday in a letter addressed to King Felipe VI, his son and Spain's current monarch, which was released by the royal palace.

He said the move would help his son "exercise his responsibilities" in the face of "the public consequences of certain past events in my private life".

 

'Kicked out' 

The former head of state has been under a cloud since news reports from several sources that he had allegedly received funds from Saudi Arabia. Investigations are now under way in both Switzerland and Spain.

In June, Spain's Supreme Court announced an investigation to determine the legal responsibility of the ex-monarch -- but only for acts committed after his abdication in 2014, because of the immunity he holds.  

The suspicions center on $100 million (85 million euros) allegedly paid secretly into a Swiss bank account in 2008.

Several analysts said the former king had not fled, as anti-monarchists argue, but was in exile.

"It's an involuntary departure," said Paloma Roman, politics professor at Madrid’s Complutense University.

Juan Carlos had been pressured to leave by "the government and his own son", she said.

"Felipe has always tried to soften the blows" against the monarchy as it has been rocked by a series of scandals, she added.

Earlier this year the king withdrew his father's an annual royal allowance of nearly 200,000 euros and renounced his inheritance.

"This is not a king who is fleeing, this is a king that is being kicked out," said Abel Hernandez, a journalist who was written several books about Juan Carlos.

Juan Carlos is "leaving to prevent his problems from contaminating the institution", he added.

 

 'Questionable conduct' 

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez suggested that King Felipe VI had decided that his father should go into exile.

Asked at a press conference Tuesday about Juan Carlos's move abroad, Sanchez said he "completely respected the decision of the royal palace to distance itself from the questionable and reprehensible conduct" of a member of the royal family.

The former monarch did not mention in his letter where he would go, but Spanish media said he was in the Dominican Republic staying with friends for now.

His wife Sofia is still in Spain, a source close to the royal palace told AFP. The couple have reportedly long been estranged.

The ex-king's lawyer, Javier Sanchez-Junco, said his client would remain available to prosecutors.

Felipe VI's biographer, Jose Apezarena, said the move abroad would "not change anything" for Juan Carlos but would make a difference to his son.

Juan Carlos will be "gone for a while but he will not stay forever abroad" and will return to Spain if summoned for questioning, he added.

"He is doing it for his son, not for himself," Apezarena said.

Juan Carlos ascended the throne in 1975 on the death of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

He ruled for 38 years before abdicating in favor of his son Felipe VI in June 2014, following a steady flow of embarrassing press reports about his lifestyle and personal wealth.

For years though, 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.