Spain”s King Felipe VI has said he has “respect and appreciation” for the decision of his father, the emeritus King Juan Carlos I, to move abroad amid a brewing financial scandal. Spanish media report on Tuesday that he has already left the country.
The current monarch’s reaction came in a news release from the royal household. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also said he had “respect” for the move, according to a statement from his office.
However, not everyone has been so understanding over the latest bombshell in a long-running royal saga in Spain. News of Juan Carlos’ decision follows claims that he had received money from Saudi Arabia’s former king.
The government’s deputy leader Pablo Iglesias of the left-wing Podemos movement denounced on Twitter the former king’s “flight abroad” as “an unworthy attitude of a former Head of State”, which “leaves the monarchy in a very compromised position”.
Juan Carlos should “answer for his actions in Spain and before his people,” Iglesias added.
The retired monarch’s lawyer, Javier Sanchez-Junco, said his client was not seeking to evade justice and was available to speak to prosecutors.
‘Not a good image’
On the streets of Madrid, there was a mixed reaction to news of the former king’s decision to leave.
“Whether he goes or not, he should pay for what he’s done. It’s a shame because he’s done a lot for Spain, but it’s clear that at some stage of his career he became corrupted,” said publicist Iñigo Inchaurraga, 33.
Outside the Zarzuela Palace complex, Juan Carlos’ former home in a large wooded area in the outskirts of Madrid, local teacher Nadia Rodriguez said she thought his decision to leave was right, adding “the truth is that he hasn’t been giving a very good image of Spain”.
But Jose Manuel, a 45-year-old IT technician, warned against jumping to conclusions.
“There must be the notion of innocence before being held guilty. It is very easy with these matters, to say this and to say that, but with this, I’m not saying he did or didn’t do it,” he said.
Some of the reaction in Catalonia, where many oppose the monarchy, was harsher.
“The European monarchies are untouchable and I think this is something we should change,” said Núria Lladó, 52, a Barcelona resident. “We are in the 21st century, I am still surprised that some people think it is good that he leaves or steps down. No, he should be in jail. That’s it.”
In July the prime minister said he was “disturbed” by the “worrying information” after Spain’s Supreme Court began an investigation into Juan Carlos’ alleged link to a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia.
This has now been followed by damaging testimony in Spanish media that the 82-year-old had received millions of euros from the late King Abdullah, some of which he then allegedly transferred to a bank account under his former mistress’s name.
The companion, Corinna Larsen, is a Danish-German businesswoman long linked by Spanish media to the former king.
Spanish prosecutors have asked her to provide testimony in the case in September in Madrid.
The former king’s decision to leave the country was announced in a letter from Juan Carlos to his son and published on the royal family’s website. He said the move came against the backdrop of “public repercussions of certain episodes of my past private life” and did not want to make his son’s role difficult.
Juan Carlos is credited with helping Spain peacefully restore democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
But marred by scandals in the later years of his reign, in 2014 he abdicated, losing the immunity from prosecution Spain’s Constitution grants to the head of state.
Juan Carlos’ current whereabouts are not known. Some reports say he has gone to the Dominican Republic, while one newspaper says he could be in Portugal, France or Italy.