by Alfons LUNA / Benjamin BOULY RAMES
Scandal-tainted Spanish ex-king Juan Carlos I visited his son and current monarch Felipe VI in Madrid on Monday, during a brief but controversial trip home after almost two years in self-imposed exile.
The meeting came at the end of the former king’s first visit to Spain since he moved to the United Arab Emirates in August 2020.
Spanish media said Juan Carlos’s fleeting visit followed months of intense negotiations between his staff, the royal household and the government, which was vehemently opposed to him staying at Madrid’s Zarzuela Palace.
Juan Carlos was for decades revered for his role in steering Spain to democracy following dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.
But damaging scandals over his finances and private life forced him to abdicate in 2014, after nearly 40 years on the throne, and then to leave Spain.
The 84-year-old flew into Spain from Abu Dhabi on May 19 for a three-day regatta featuring his yacht.
He arrived on Monday morning at the royal palace in Madrid directly from the regatta venue in Sanxenxo, in the northwestern region of Galicia. He waved from his car to several dozen sympathisers waiting for him outside the Zarzuela Palace.
Television footage showed him leaving the palace at around 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) after an 11-hour stay. Juan Carlos then headed to Madrid’s airport to return to Abu Dhabi in a private jet.
A statement from the royal household said Juan Carlos met relatives including his estranged wife, Queen Sofia, and held a long conversation with Felipe on family matters and events in Spain since his departure.
Juan Carlos had not seen Sofia or his son since he fled to the UAE, dogged by corruption allegations.
The statement added that Juan Carlos would continue staying permanently in Abu Dhabi and would only enjoy private accommodation in future visits and if he chose to reside in Spain again.
Spanish media interpreted the statement as a sign that the royal family was leaving the door open for Juan Carlos’s permanent return to Spain.
– ‘Wasted opportunity’ –
The visit followed a March decision by prosecutors to close their probes into the ex-king’s financial affairs — partly because he was immune from prosecution while on the throne and because the statute of limitations had expired.
Their decision triggered anger in some quarters, which was only exacerbated by his return.
Despite the end to the legal proceedings, the drip-feed of revelations about his opulent lifestyle, the murky source of his wealth and harassment claims made by a former lover have irremediably sullied his image.
In 2012, the king was hospitalised after breaking his hip during an expensive hunting trip to Botswana, at a time when ordinary Spaniards were struggling in the throes of a recession.
Spanish media was plastered with photos of the rifle-toting monarch, then patron of a wildlife charity, standing in front of a dead elephant.
“I think king Juan Carlos wasted the opportunity during this visit to give an explanation and apologise,” Isabel Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Socialist government, told Spanish public radio RNE on Monday.
Juan Carlos dismissed the issue during his visit to Sanxenxo.
“Explanations? What about?” he snapped when asked by journalists outside the yachting club if he would try to clarify the situation when he met his son.
– Transparency –
Since he ascended to the throne in 2014, King Felipe VI has distanced himself from Juan Carlos in a bid to try and restore the monarchy’s image.
He has not visited his father in exile and, officially, did not speak to him by phone until last week, when they arranged Monday’s visit.
In March 2020, Felipe cut off his father’s annual palace allowance, worth a reported 200,000 euros ($210,000), and renounced his own claim to his inheritance from the king emeritus.
Last month, he and the government took steps to increase the monarchy’s transparency via a decree requiring the palace to publish its budget and make tenders public.
It also means the royal accounts will be audited, senior palace officials must declare their personal wealth on taking up and leaving a post, and gifts given to royals will be catalogued.
“Felipe VI is doing a great job to restore transparency, which is essential for any state institution,” Rodriguez said.
Juan Carlos is scheduled to return to Sanxenxo in three weeks’ time for another regatta featuring his vessel, the “Bribon”.
The ex-king and his crew sailed the six-metre (20-foot) racing yacht to victory in the world sailing championships in 2017 and 2019.
Samsung Electronics became the first chipmaker in the world to mass produce advanced 3-nanometre microchips, the company said Thursday, as it seeks to catch up with Taiwan’s TSMC.