Speculation over the whereabouts of former Spanish monarch Juan Carlos gripped the nation yesterday, a day after the man who served as king for almost four decades announced he was leaving the country for an unspecified destination amid a growing financial scandal.
In a letter published on the royal family’s Web site on Monday, Juan Carlos told his son King Felipe VI he was moving outside Spain due to the “public repercussions of certain episodes of my past private life.”
Juan Carlos is the target of official investigations in Spain and Switzerland, which are looking into possible financial wrongdoing.
His bombshell announcement took most Spaniards by surprise. Neither the royal family nor the government disclosed where the former king was going.
Daily newspaper ABC yesterday reported that Juan Carlos left Spain on Sunday and flew via Porto, in neighboring Portugal, to the Dominican Republic. The daily La Vanguardia also said he was in the Caribbean country, but only temporarily.
However, El Confidencial newspaper reported that Juan Carlos could still be in Portugal, where he spent part of his childhood, or in France or Italy, where he has family and friends.
He assumed the throne in November 1975 as King Juan Carlos I, and is credited with helping Spain peacefully restore democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco that year.
However, marred by scandals in the later years of his reign, Juan Carlos in 2014 abdicated in favor of Felipe, losing the immunity from prosecution the Spanish Constitution grants to the head of state.
Spain’s king is the head of state, which is a mostly ceremonial role. Executive power lies with the elected parliamentary government.
In the wake of Juan Carlos’ announcement, some people called for the monarchy to be abolished. The leftist political party Unidas Podemos, the junior member of Spain’s coalition government, wants a public debate about creating a republic.
“There is no reason at all to keep supporting a monarchy which doesn’t possess minimum ethical standards,” the party said in a statement late on Monday.
However, the Socialist party, which leads the government under Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, has showed no willingness to follow that path and has declared its support for King Felipe.
Even so, Sanchez recently said he found the developments about Juan Carlos “disturbing.”
In downtown Madrid, opinions were divided.
“I think it is really bad that we let him go,” said Sara Fernandez, a 38-year-old insurance worker. “He should have to stay here, return the money and do prison time, like all Spaniards when you break the law.”
However, janitor Mar Verdugo, 55, urged caution.
“We are judging him without any evidence, so when there is a sentence we will see if he has done right or wrong,” Verdugo said.
Juan Carlos’ lawyer, Javier Sanchez-Junco Mans, said in an e-mailed statement that the former king had asked him to make clear that even though he will be outside Spain, he intends to be available to cooperate with the investigation.
A statement from Spain’s general prosecutor’s office in June said it was investigating whether Juan Carlos received millions of US dollars in kickbacks from Saudi Arabia during the construction of a high-speed railway there by a Spanish consortium.
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