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Spanish ex-king’s exile: flight or expulsion

GIFFARD MADRID, Aug 4, 2020 : Many Spaniards questioned Tuesday whether former king Juan Carlos, who is under investigation for corruption, is trying to escape responsibility for his actions by moving abroad. 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 various media reported that he allegedly received funds from Saudi Arabia and probes are now under way in both Switzerland and Spain.
Spain’s Supreme Court announced in June 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 centre 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, adding Juan Carlos was pressured to leave by “the government and his own son”.

“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 from his father 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.

‘Best moment’

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. For his son and nobody else,” Apezarena said.

Juan Carlos ascended the throne in 1975 on the death of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco and ruled for 38 years before abdicating in favour of his son Felipe VI in June 2014, amid a steady flow of embarrassing press reports about his lifestyle and personal wealth. 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.

The former king had picked “the best moment strategically” to announce his departure, said Roman.
“It’s summer, there is a resurgence of the coronavirus epidemic, it goes unnoticed because the country is focused on other worries” she added. (AFP)

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