King Juan Carlos, father of King Felipe, is now living in exile abroad. The surprise news that he had quit Spain came in a formal announcement from the Zarzuela Palace on August 3.
However, it took the Palace a further 15 days to confirm that he had flown in a private plane to Abu Dahbi where he has been staying in the presidential suite of the Emirates Palace Hotel. It gave no indication regarding the length of his stay there, or where his final destination is to be. His lawyers insist he remains “at the disposition” of Spain’s judicial system.
Juan Carlos, who now holds the title “emeritus King”, abdicated in favour of his son in 2014. His wife, Queen Sofía, who was on her annual holiday on Mallorca when the news broke last month, continues to maintain her apartments at the Zarzuela Palace. The couple have been married for 75 years but their relationship since Juan Carlos’ abdication is said to have been almost non-existent.
In a letter to his son released on the day of his departure, Juan Carlos said that his decision to leave had been made, “in the face of the public repercussions that certain past events in my private life are generating.” He added that he was guided by the conviction that it was the best way to serve the people of Spain.
In June, the Supreme Court in Madrid opened an investigation into the alleged involvement of Juan Carlos in a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia. The deal won a Spanish consortium a €6.7 billion contract to construct and maintain a high-speed rail link between Mecca and Medina.
A Swiss newspaper then reported that Juan Carlos had received $100 million from the Saudi royal family, a large amount of which he transferred to a former companion, allegedly to hide the money from the authorities. A German businesswoman, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, claimed last month he gave her €65 million, “out of love and gratitude.” Juan Carlos is believed to have had a relationship with her between 2004 and 2009.
Juan Carlos I reigned as King of Spain from 1975 to 2014 and gained huge public popularity after playing a critical role in the country’s transition to democracy by introducing reforms to dismantle the regime of General Franco. Criticism began in 2012 when he was flown home injured from an extravagant hunting trip in Botswana at a time when unemployment in Spain was running at around 23 per cent. It only worsened in 2014 when his son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarin was found guilty of tax fraud and jailed. In March this year, his son King Felipe renounced his own inheritance and stripped his father of his palace allowance.