The emeritus King of Spain, Juan Carlos I of the House of Bourbons, announced on Monday evening that he would go into exile with immediate effect. Official confirmation of his future whereabouts is still pending, but according to media reports the monarch is already in the Dominican Republic.
The escape is the result of a serious corruption scandal, which the highest court in Madrid has been investigating since the beginning of June this year. The former head of state is accused, among other things, of having accepted bribes of around 100 million euros in 2008 in connection with the construction of an express train line in Saudi Arabia.
In a letter to his son Felipe, Juan Carlos declared that he would leave Spain “to facilitate his son’s work as head of state, given the public impact that certain past events are currently causing”. This would be done with “the same zeal to serve Spain” that had inspired Juan Carlos during his reign. However, he remains at the disposal of the Spanish authorities.
Felipe had already broken with his father in the past to preserve the monarchy’s reputation in Spain. Thus, the annual salary of the former monarch was already cut in March of these years. In the same breath Felipe declared that he “knew nothing of Juan Carlos’ machinations.” Accordingly, he waived any financial claim to a possible inheritance from his father.
However, only possible criminally relevant actions since 2014 are being investigated, due to the Spanish constitution, which provides for criminal immunity for the ruling king. On 19 June 2014 the ageing monarch had abdicated in favour of his then 46-year-old son, Felipe VI.
The case becomes even more explosive with regard to a vote of the Spanish parliament on 26 June 2014, when the then ruling conservative PP had introduced a law that extended the immunity of the former king. This had the consequence that only the highest court of justice could initiate proceedings against the ex-monarch.
The reactions on the part of the Spanish left were sometimes violent. For example, the leader of the left-wing party Podemos declared that the “flight of the king is an unworthy behaviour for a former head of state. He leaves the monarchy in a very delicate situation“. Íñigo Errejón, founder of the left-wing alternative party Más País, called the events “scandalous”. Moreover, “it is now becoming clear that the Monarchy is not above the political trench warfare, but at its epicentre“.
Catalan President Quim Torra (ERC), however, called for the abdication of the current King Felipe. The Basque left-wing EH Bildu supported this demand. Head of government Pedro Sánchez (PSOE), on the other hand, said that they “respect the king’s decision and recognise Felipe’s exemplary behaviour”.
The right-wing conservative camp, on the other hand, reacted differently. The President of the capital region of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso (PP), stressed the “historic work” of the former king, to whom she owes “the best years of democracy”.
The extreme right-wing VOX said that the Spanish left wanted to “publicly lynch the former king”. Whether alive or only his mortal remains”. The government would also “use the king’s personal decision to trample the monarchy underfoot”.