Spain’s self-exiled former king, Juan Carlos, who abandoned the country almost three years ago after a series of damaging financial allegations that further tarnished his diminished reputation, is due to make a trip home to take part in a sailing regatta this week.
The 85-year-old former monarch, who retains the title rey emérito (king emeritus), has been living in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, since August 2020.
However, Juan Carlos is due back in Spain on Wednesday to participate – as he did last year – in a sailing competition in Sanxenxo in the north-western region of Galicia. Sanxenxo’s mayor, Telmo Martín González, said the ex-king would be given a warm welcome.
“We’re always delighted when the king decides to come to Sanxenxo – which he often does – but we’d still like to see him more often,” said the mayor.
The reception from Spain’s Socialist-led coalition government was somewhat cooler. Asked last week about Juan Carlos’s return, Isabel Rodríguez, a spokesperson for the government, said it had no comment to make on “a private visit” and “a personal decision”.
The former king was pictured emerging from a nightclub in London on Monday evening and it thought to be attending Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final between Chelsea and Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge.
Despite being credited with helping Spain return to democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, Juan Carlos abdicated in favour of his son, Felipe, amid plummeting popularity in 2014. In recent years his battered legacy has been further dented by a string of personal and financial scandals.
Pictures of Juan Carlos posing in front of a dead elephant while on safari in Botswana in 2012 did not impress many Spaniards as the country continued to reel from the 2008 economic crisis.
In March 2020, King Felipe stripped his father of his annual stipend and renounced his own personal inheritance from Juan Carlos after reports that he was in line to receive millions of euros from a secret offshore fund with ties to Saudi Arabia.
According to a statement released by the royal family at the time, neither King Felipe nor his household had any knowledge, participation or responsibility in the alleged events, the statement noted. The statement also included a note from the former king, stating he had never told his son that he was the beneficiary of the fund.
Three months later, Spain’s supreme court began investigating 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.
The investigations were shelved last year because of a lack of evidence, the statute of limitations, Juan Carlos’s sovereign immunity and the fact he had paid tax authorities more than €5m.
But his legal issues are far from over. The ex-king’s former lover, the Danish businesswoman Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, has brought action against him at the high court in London, claiming he used Spain’s spy agency to target and harass her and her children after their five-year relationship ended.
Sayn-Wittgenstein is seeking damages for the “great mental pain, alarm, anxiety, distress, loss of wellbeing, humiliation and moral stigma she has suffered”.
Lawyers for the former monarch have rejected the claims and any allegations of wrongdoing “in the strongest terms”. The case continues.