Spain’s royal palace has declined to say whether its scandal-hit former king has left the country, amid widespread speculation about his whereabouts one day after he announced that he would go into exile.
On Monday, Spain’s royal house published a letter sent by Juan Carlos to his son, King Felipe VI, saying he would “move, at this time, outside of Spain” amid the “public repercussions that certain past events in my private life are generating”.
The royal house did not give any indication of where the 82-year-old would go. Soon after the announcement, media in Portugal reported that he was in the Portuguese riviera, where the former king, who was born in exile in Rome, had spent part of his childhood. Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper said the former king had travelled to the Dominican Republic via Portugal, where he would stay temporarily.
In recent years, a cloud of allegations has swirled around Juan Carlos, undermining the monarchy’s tenuous grip on power and denting the popularity of a leader who played a pivotal role in restoring democracy to Spain after the death of Gen Francisco Franco in 1975.
Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014, two years after he apologised to Spaniards for jetting off on an elephant-hunting trip to Botswana as Spain grappled with the devastation wrought by the financial crisis.News that he would hand the crown to his son, Felipe, roused long-simmering republican sentiment across the country, with tens of thousands taking to the streets to demand a referendum on the monarchy.
Pressure had intensified in recent weeks on the former king and his son to take action to protect the monarchy’s reputation after Spain’s supreme court launched an investigation into the former king’s role in a deal in which a Spanish consortium landed a €6.7bn (£5.9bn) contract to build a high-speed rail line between the Saudi cities of Medina and Mecca.
In the letter released on Monday, Juan Carlos said his decision had been made to try to help Felipe “exercise his responsibilities” as king.
“This is a very emotional decision, but one I take with great serenity. I have been king of Spain for almost 40 years and throughout them all I have always wanted what is best for Spain and the crown,” he said.
Juan Carlos’ lawyer, Javier Sánchez-Junco, said the former king had asked him to make it clear that he would “remain at the disposal of the prosecutors’ office at all times for any procedure or action deemed appropriate”.
The dramatic exit prompted a range of reactions in Spain, where the monarchy has long divided opinion. The leftwing Podemos, which was among the parties pushing the Spanish parliament to launch an investigation into the business activities of the former king, argued that Juan Carlos should have stayed in Spain.
“There is no reason at all to keep supporting a monarchy which doesn’t possess minimum ethical standards,” it said in a statement late Monday.
The Socialist party, which heads Spain’s minority coalition government, has so far opposed any attempt to delve into matters relating to the former king. Still, in a rare admission last month, the prime minister acknowledged the widespread impact of the allegations. “It’s obvious that, collectively, Spaniards are hearing some unsettling reports that disturb all of us, and which disturb me, too,” said Pedro Sánchez.
“Juan Carlos de Borbón’s flight abroad is an act unworthy of a former head of state and it leaves the monarchy in a very compromised position,” Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos and Spain’s deputy prime minister, noted on Facebook.
In March, the royal house announced that Juan Carlos would be stripped of his annual stipend and that Felipe would renounce his own inheritance, after reports that he was in line to receive millions of euros from a secret offshore fund with ties to Saudi Arabia.
Swiss prosecutors are looking into a number of accounts held in the country by the former monarch and his alleged associates. It is alleged in documents from the Swiss prosecutors that Juan Carlos received a $100m (£85m) “donation” from the king of Saudi Arabia that he put in an offshore account in 2008. Four years later, he allegedly gifted €65m (£59m) from the account to his former lover Corinna Larsen.
Juan Carlos has said he never told his son he was set to benefit from two offshore funds, but he has made no further comment on the allegations.