Scandal-hit former king returns to Spain after 2 years

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Spain's former King Juan Carlos gets into a car on arrival by private jet at the Peinador airport in Vigo, north western Spain, Thursday, May 19, 2022. Spain's former King has returned to Spain Thursday for his first visit since leaving nearly two years ago amid a cloud of financial scandals.(AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar)

MADRID – Spain’s former king returned to the country Thursday for his first visit since leaving nearly two years ago amid a cloud of financial scandals.

Plans for the visit were confirmed earlier this week by the royal household, who said Juan Carlos I would first visit the northwestern town of Sanxenxo, where a yachting event is scheduled. He plans to travel to Madrid on Monday to see his son, King Felipe VI, and other members of the royal family, the palace said in a statement.

The royal palace says the 84-year-old ex-monarch would return Monday to his “permanent and stable residence” in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. It said his visit to Spain reflects Juan Carlos’ desire to “travel frequently to Spain to visit family and friends.”

Juan Carlos left Spain in August 2020 as Spanish and Swiss prosecutors investigated his involvement in alleged financial wrongdoings. The scandals renewed a debate over whether Spain should have a monarchy.

On Thursday evening, the private flight carrying the former monarch landed in northwestern Spain. He did not speak to the media who had gathered to capture his arrival ahead of a three-day regatta in which his yacht, the “Bribón” — which loosely translates as rascal — is participating.

The news of his visit divided opinion among Spain's politicians.

“I think all Spanish citizens deserve an explanation,” Spain’s minister for economic affairs, Nadia Calviño, told broadcaster Cadena Ser on Thursday.

Yolanda Díaz, the second deputy prime minister and a senior member of the United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party, echoed that view.

“To me, it doesn't matter where the king is,” she told reporters. “What I do believe, for the dignity of an institution like the Royal House — and this is coming from someone who is not a monarchist — is that he should be held accountable and explain to Spaniards what he did while he was the head of state.”

Others said it was time to turn the page.

“Prosecutors have already said that there were irregularities and that these irregularities are not subject to criminal prosecution,” said Edmundo Bal, a spokesperson for the Ciudadanos party. “That’s it. Period.”

Spanish prosecutors didn’t find evidence to take the former monarch to court because much of the alleged misbehavior, involving millions of euros (dollars) in undeclared accounts, happened when Juan Carlos had legal immunity as Spain’s king. Other acts of potential fraud fell outside the statute of limitations.

The investigations led to the recovery of 5.1 million euros ($5.4 million) in fines and taxes for income that Juan Carlos had failed to declare to Spanish tax authorities, the prosecutors said.

Swiss prosecutors also dropped their investigation.

Although Juan Carlos was not among the main subjects of the Swiss probe, prosecutors there said they discovered he received $100 million from the Saudi finance ministry in 2008 before he stepped down as king. The investigation also turned up millions more received by the king or his former partner, Danish-German entrepreneur Corinna Larsen.

Since becoming king in June 2014, Felipe VI has tried to distance himself from his father. He removed Juan Carlos from the royal house’s payroll to help rebuild the Spanish crown’s image.

Juan Carlos served as king from November 1975 until he abdicated and his son took his place. As monarch, Juan Carlos helped steer Spain back to democracy following the 1975 death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco, making him at that time one of Spain’s most respected public figures.

But scandals involving Spain's royal family began to mount in the later years of his reign. Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014, ending a 39-year-long term as monarch.