End of probe into former Spanish king’s €65m gift prompts talk of return

Opposition to return of Juan Carlos, who has been living in Abu Dhabi since 2020

The shelving of a judicial investigation into Spain's disgraced former king Juan Carlos, who has been living in self-exile in Abu Dhabi for over a year, is fuelling speculation about his future.

Juan Carlos (83) fled to the United Arab Emirates in August 2020, amid a storm of scandals about his financial affairs. Among a series of damaging revelations was the fact he had given €65 million to a former lover, Corinna su Zayn-Wittgenstein, leading to a probe into the provenance of that money by prosecutors in Spain and Switzerland, where it was deposited.

However, in recent days the Swiss investigation into that money has been closed, apparently ruling out the possibility that it had been a bribe from the Saudi royal family for Juan Carlos’s role in brokering a contract for the building of a high-speed rail link between Mecca and Medina.

According to reports, Spain's supreme court is also planning to close a probe into the same case, and shelve investigations into the former monarch's alleged use of credit cards belonging to a Mexican tycoon and an offshore bank account Juan Carlos allegedly had in Jersey.


Two payments

Meanwhile, the former king has made two apparently voluntary payments amounting to more than €5 million, in order to clear arrears with the Spanish tax authority.

All of this has prompted some reports in Spanish media that Juan Carlos is planning to return home soon, in the hope of either living in a luxurious district of Madrid, or of sharing his time between Spain and Portugal.

However, even if his legal problems are resolved, Juan Carlos faces greater political opposition than he did on his departure from Spain 16 months ago, suggesting his return home may not be imminent.

Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez said: "Of course, I still believe that King Juan Carlos must give an explanation."

The reign of Felipe VI has at times been overshadowed by the scandals surrounding his father

Mr Sánchez was privy to the former king’s decision to leave the country, but his Socialist Party has expressed concerns about his behaviour and declared itself in favour of making the crown more accountable.

The junior partner in the coalition government, Unidas Podemos, has been more openly critical of Juan Carlos, insisting that his recent tax payments, for example, were an admission of guilt.

Juan Carlos took the throne in 1975, on the death of dictator Francisco Franco, and he was credited with helping guide Spain to democracy. His reputation was buoyed for decades by a folksy image and his private life was seldom covered by the media.

Elephant hunting

However, the revelation in 2012 that he had been elephant hunting in Botswana with Ms Zayn-Wittgenstein, in the depths of the euro-zone financial crisis, unleashed a barrage of criticism. He abdicated two years later in favour of his son, Felipe.

The reign of Felipe VI has at times been overshadowed by the scandals surrounding his father. Earlier this month, Juan Carlos’s lawyers requested sovereign immunity for their client in the British court of justice, in an effort to thwart legal action brought by Ms Zayn-Wittgenstein, who accuses him of using the Spanish intelligence services to harass and threaten her after their relationship ended.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain