An Ex-King, Missing Millions and a Monarchy in Crisis

The coup attempt came less than six years after Francisco Franco’s death ended a 36-year dictatorship. It was therefore easy for the Spaniards to believe that Franco’s military supporters would come back to power. In this tiny village bar, far from armed authorities, people obeyed instructions and went home. That evening in 1981, young and naive, I felt for the first time what it was like to have a dictator’s yoke on my neck, a glimmer of the four decades in which Franco and the Church set the narrow limits of life. The fear that it would start again was written on the faces around me as we all walked out the door of Catalina and headed to our houses.

A few hours later, at 1:15 a.m., I was listening to my little transistor radio when I heard King Juan Carlos I of Spain broadcast a message on TV and radio. He condemned the coup attempt and vowed to punish those responsible. It was clear that the coup was effectively over. I took a sigh of relief and went to bed, as did millions of others. The king’s relentless defense against Spain’s burgeoning democracy put an end to the coup, and its instigators surrendered shortly thereafter, eventually serving the prison sentence. That night we all felt a tremendous sense of gratitude to the king.

It turned out to be the culmination of Juan Carlos’ 39 year reign – and it’s been a long case since then.

Nowadays, Juan Carlos is the main character in a long-running scandal that has all the ingredients of a drama intended for television Telenovela. The 83-year-old Juan Carlos is no longer a king and fled Spain in disgrace to live a life of luxury in exile in Abu Dhabi, leaving his family behind. In the meantime, his former lover has publicly accused him of hiding millions of euros in illicit profits for which he did not pay taxes.

The gravity of his tax crimes casts doubt on many Spaniards as to whether there is a good reason to maintain the monarchy in the 21st centuryst Century.

Juan Carlos’ serious problems began in 2012 when he went on a hunting trip to Botswana. A photo of the king proudly standing with his rifle in front of a dead trophy elephant was widely published and harshly criticized at home. At that time he was Honorary President of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Federation.

While the king killed an elephant in a private big game hunt in Botswana, Spain was still recovering from the global recession with an unemployment rate of 23 percent that rose below 30 percent to 50 percent. The monarchy began to be generally called into question. and the first concerted appeals arose for an inquiry into the king’s finances. The noise grew and in 2014 he abdicated and his son Felipe VI became king.

In mid-2018, Corinna Larsen, an aristocratic Danish citizen born in Germany, was pressured by the Swiss authorities to declare the huge sums of money in bank accounts under her name. She is said to have been romantically linked to the King since its inception by the Duke of Westminster in 2004. When interviewed, she revealed her role in helping Juan Carlos hide part of a “gift” of nearly $ 100 million to him from the King of Saudi Arabia. It was a token of the Saudis’ appreciation for the Spanish king’s help in hiring a company to build a high-speed line to Mecca, part of an $ 8 billion project in Saudi Arabia. Larsen, who no longer had anything to do with the ex-king, said the money was a setback. Whatever it was, Juan Carlos hadn’t reported it to the Spanish tax authorities.

An investigation into the Saudi “gift” was opened and eventually expanded to include foundations associated with the ex-king. At least two of them appeared to be shell units with the sole purpose of conducting money in its own way. In addition, between 2016 and 2018, Juan Carlos had provided some members of his extended family (although not Felipe VI’s immediate family) with “opaque” credit cards from a wealthy Mexican businessman that had been used to spend hundreds of thousands of euros.

Revelation followed revelation. The investigation continues and no charges have been filed to date. However, in August 2020, the Royal Palace announced that Juan Carlos was leaving Spain to live elsewhere. He soon turned up at a friend’s luxurious mansion in Abu Dhabi, where he currently resides.

He enjoys constitutional immunity from prosecution for everything he has done as king, but all crimes committed since his abdication in 2014 are punishable. The ex-king has not made any public statements or appearances since leaving Spain for Abu Dhabi. Last month, he paid the Spanish Treasury Department more than € 4 million in back taxes, presumably in hopes of ruling out criminal charges.

Felipe VI, his wife, Queen Letizia, and Sofia, his mother, the ex-queen, are the only three people in the whole country who had absolutely nothing to say about Juan Carlos’ recent misfortune. Felipe exudes an aura of sincerity in his reign, and in the spring of 2020 it was announced that he had voluntarily relinquished all listed beneficiary rights to his father’s suspicious accounts. That being said, the current king has had no public reaction to his father’s misdeeds. Both he and his mother are dignified in silence.

Ex-Queen Sofia, 82, is a Greek princess who married Juan Carlos in 1962. They have three children: Felipe and two daughters, Cristina and Elena. As always, in the face of her husband’s fall, Sofia has continued to act as an example of moral sincerity, advocating a wide variety of charitable and cultural causes in Spain and around the world.

Juan Carlos was in many ways an accidental king whom Francisco Franco had to thank for his reign. In April 1931 King Alfonso XIII became. Deposed by the Second Republic, the first democratically elected government in the history of Spain. The republic declared the nation free of monarchs and quickly became one of the most progressive European governments of the 20th century. But only five years later, in 1936, Franco led a military uprising against the republic, and after three years and a million deaths, he managed, with military aid, to overthrow the government from Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany.

Reluctant to share power, Franco ruled Spain without a king for 36 years until his death in 1975. But he was also an ultra-conservative Spanish Catholic and believed in a vision of the nation that goes back centuries to Spain’s time of monarchy and global power. In 1969 he named Juan Carlos, the grandson of Alfonso XIII, as his future successor.

Juan Carlos has an impeccable family tree – he is a Borbón, a direct descendant of an aristocratic European family that has temporarily ruled Spain since 1700. However, Juan Carlos was never a steadfast monarch. A Bon vivantHe has always been a sailor and was a fierce competitor in Spain’s most important sailing regattas. He was also given more plebian pleasure. Urban legend in Madrid said that the ex-king liked to take his motorcycle through the streets anonymously, unaccompanied, and snuck out of the royal palace late at night. It was said that Madrileños was waiting at a traffic light and saw the king on his motorcycle in the next lane wearing a helmet and a black leather jacket.

His motorcycle days are behind him. Juan Carlos has struggled with health problems for the past ten years. He had successful open heart surgery in 2019 and multiple hip replacement surgeries that resulted from an injury sustained during his unfortunate 2012 trip to Botswana. He walks with great difficulty, always with a stick and often needs an arm to lean on. He can still enjoy time on board a yacht, but no longer participate in regattas.

The Spanish constitution makes it clear that kings should not have a voice in the political arena, but actions by members of the Spanish royal family often have political consequences. The separatist, anti-monarchist parties in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia reacted violently to those of the ex-king adioswhen he went to Abu Dhabi.

“The best service you can do for the Spanish people is not to run from justice and show your face with dignity,” tweeted Carolina Telechea, spokeswoman for the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Catalan Republican Left), the strongest of the world Parties advocating Catalan independence from Spain and a determined antimonarchist.

The coalition partner of the socialist government, the left party Podemos (We Can), together with the separatists condemned the ex-king’s departure. “Juan Carlos de Borbón’s flight to a foreign country is an unworthy attitude for a head of state and leaves the monarchy in a very compromised position,” tweeted Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos. “Out of respect for the citizens and the Spanish democracy, Juan Carlos I should respond to the people for his actions in Spain.”

The ruling socialist party was much more discreet, defending the institution of the monarchy and its role in Spanish society, and reassuring the public that the wrongdoing of any Spaniard, including an ex-king, will be prosecuted under the law. During the congress, the socialists, along with the far-right Vox party and the conservative People’s Party, blocked the creation of a commission to investigate Juan Carlos’ finances, stating that this was the responsibility of the legal system and not the legislature.

Do the Spaniards view the institution of monarchy as a living example of Spain’s ancient noble heritage, or little more than a relic from a time when aristocrats and the Roman Catholic Church ruled the nation for centuries, keeping its population illiterate and oppressed? It depends who you ask. The right wing worships the monarchy, while the left wing calls for an end and eliminates the royal household’s share of the Spanish annual budget of 8 million euros. That’s only a tenth of what the British royal family spends annually, but more and more Spaniards are seeing it as too much.

Juan Carlos I was held in high esteem by most Spaniards during much of his reign. His excesses were generally tolerated before 2012 by those who gratefully remembered how he had reacted to the attempted military coup in 1981. Even this has recently been called into question, with some observers advocating a theory that the king, certain politicians, and the military orchestrated the whole affair to get the Spaniards to accept a carefully constructed, moderate parliamentary monarchy. In the absence of effective public access laws in Spain, government documents on the 1981 coup attempt are still not available to journalists or historians.

In any case, this time around it is unlikely that the ex-king will be largely forgiven. It’s one thing to have an attractive Danish lover or sneak out of the palace for some fun at night, but in a modern European country, it’s quite another to stop paying millions in taxes to the To withdraw from the nation he once ruled.

Juan Carlos apparently understands the seriousness of his situation. He has not come home to spend the Christmas holidays with his family and has not announced any plans to return to Spain.

The bad press from the Spanish royal family continues. In the same week in late February that it became known that Juan Carlos had repaid € 4 million in taxes, it was reported that his two daughters had visited him in Abu Dhabi in January and both received Covid-19 vaccinations while they were there.

This didn’t sit well at home. About 74,000 Spaniards had died of Covid-19 by the end of March, but the much-anticipated vaccines were not available here, despite people in the US and the UK receiving theirs. Vaccination is a privilege that is currently unavailable to millions of us in Spain, eagerly awaiting our needle sticks, as vaccine is still in short supply.

While the normally gregarious Spaniards crouch in their homes hoping to avoid infection before they can be vaccinated, the royal family offers a real life Telenovela to distract their minds from the plague. In a way, but accidentally, Juan Carlos is saving Spain again at a time of national crisis – this time by entertaining us.

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