Juan Carlos fled Spain amid a dirty money probe, but where did he go?
05 Aug 2020

When Spain’s royal palace announced Monday that former Spanish King Juan Carlos was leaving the country, it omitted a key detail.

Where exactly had he gone?

On Monday, several media outlets reported the former king had traveled to the Portuguese town of Cascais, where he spent parts of his childhood. By Tuesday morning, Spanish newspapers said Juan Carlos, 82, was in the Dominican Republic. But later in the day, the Dominican foreign minister said he had not entered the Caribbean nation, Agence France-Presse reported.

The coverage at times more closely resembled a public manhunt for a high-profile suspect than the sudden flight of a disgraced former king.

Investigators in Switzerland have been looking into offshore accounts reportedly linked to Juan Carlos for years. Those accounts are also being examined by prosecutors in Spain.

At the center of the probe is a $100 million dollar gift from the king of Saudi Arabia to Juan Carlos in 2008 and whether it had a role in the subsequent contract for a Saudi high-speed railway awarded to a Spanish consortium.

Juan Carlos has not been placed under formal investigation, according to Reuters, and he has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. It is unclear whether he could be charged at all, as his actions before his abdication are covered by immunity.

But after the allegations were made public, his son and successor, King Felipe VI, this year canceled the $225,000 annual grant his father received. Felipe also renounced his own inheritance, further distancing himself from his father.

Through his lawyer, Juan Carlos has said he would “remain at the disposal” of prosecutors in the future.

“Guided by the conviction to best serve the people of Spain, its institutions, and you as king, I inform you of my decision at this time to leave Spain,” Juan Carlos wrote in a letter published Monday.

His departure was the latest stage in a fall from national hero to burden to the country’s royal family.

The grandson of Alfonso XIII, Spain’s last king before the proclamation of the Second Republic, Juan Carlos was designated by Francisco Franco as heir-apparent to the restored crown in 1969. When he became king after Franco’s death in 1975, there were concerns about his ties to the fascist dictator. But he was widely credited for having played a key role in the country’s transition to democracy, notably helping to thwart a coup attempt in 1981 aimed at restoring Francoist rule.

Juan Carlos was described as a charismatic leader close to the people who could be harsh against those who abused their power. In a 2007 meeting of leaders, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez interrupted Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Juan Carlos told him: “Why don’t you shut up!”

But during the 2008 financial crisis, as Spain was suffering a severe downturn, the king and his family faced questions over their lavish lifestyle and accusations of having abused their own power. Allegations of graft by his daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband began to shine a more uncomfortable light on the monarch.

By Rick Noack, The Washington Post, 4 August 2020

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