Dreaming of home

by Rose Maramba


Royal Watch


Abu Dhabi corniche

It’s been more than a year since Juan Carlos I left Spain (3 August 2020) following the financial scandal swirling around him.  He lives in the United Arab Emirates, in a gilded cage, as some would say – likely not unfounded – keeping abreast of Spanish news, watching films, and going to the gym as physical therapy given that his physical mobility is impaired. Talking with a Spanish magazine, he claims he is “as fit as a fiddle” and does “two hours of gymnastics every day.”

Happier Christmas: Then Prince Juan Carlos of Spain and Princess Sofía during the 1967-68 Christmas Season with their children, the Infantas Elena and Cristina, and baby Felipe

But now he wants to go home. He always thought of returning to his old kingdom no sooner than he self-exiled on foreign soil.

King Felipe VI: The return of his father to Spain is in his hands

It is being alleged, complete with legalese arguments, that only the reigning King Felipe VI, Spain’s Head of State and son of Juan Carlos I, can flash the green light on his father’s coming home this Christmas. So far, that light remains red and is not likely to change even for the New Year’s celebrations.

The speculations on the royal homecoming have reached new heights after the Swiss prosecutors dropped a corruption case against Juan Carlos, el rey emérito as he is now referred to, who is said to have pocketed $100m in kickbacks over Saudi Arabia’s $8 billion Mecca-Medina high-speed-rail contract granted to a Spanish consortium in 2011 thanks to the old Spanish King’s mediation. (Then French President Sarkozy wanted the succulent deal for France but failed to bag it.)

Acting on the instruction of Saudi King Abdallah ben Abdelaziz Al Saoud, now deceased, his Finance Minister transferred $100m to an account at the Swiss Banque Mirabaud in 2008. The account belonged to the Panama-based Lucum Foundation created by King Juan Carlos that same year. It is said that the money was part of a bribery scheme.

The Spanish Talgo 350 SRO on its test run on the Mecca-Medina High-Speed Railway, Saudi Arabia

But the Geneva Attorney General’s office has just admitted failure to establish “sufficient” link between King Abdallah’s bank transfer and the rail contract. For which reason the Swiss prosecutors have shelved the case.

In Spain, though the Public Prosecutor has launched several inquiries into his irregular financial dealings, it is not possible to indict Juan Carlos. At least, not on counts before 2014 when he abdicated the throne. The Spanish Constitution says that as Chief of State he is “inviolable and assumes no liability”.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy witnesses Juan Carlos’ signing of his abdication into law on 19 June 2014

To avoid prosecution after abdicating (19 June 2014), the rey emérito has settled with the Spanish Tax Agency (Agencia Tributaria Española) a few million euros between December 2020 and February 2021.

Without legal questions hanging over the royal head, it is just a matter of time before the once well-loved King returns to Spain. Since it’s been discarded that he come home for Christmas as he had hoped, it is now being bandied about that he’ll time his homecoming for his birthday in January 5. Born in 1938, Juan Carlos will be 84 years old by then.

Princess in love: Then Princess Sofía of Greece and Denmark, with her new husband Juan Carlos Prince of Spain. (They were married on 14 May 1962)

The prospect of the homecoming is giving King Felipe VI such a headache. The worst-case scenario is that it will cause the eventual downfall of the not-so-entrenched Spanish monarchy as it will once again focus the disaffected public’s attention on the corrupt practices during the reign of Juan Carlos (22 November 1975 – 19 June 2014).

Queen Sofía in belted green jacket, at the 2018 inauguration of an exhibition of works by artists with disability in Madrid. They say she’s still in love with Juan Carlos. (Walking alongside the reina emérito is Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmnena.)

To throw romance into the mix, it is widely perceived among the Spanish royalty watchers that the ever-popular Queen Sofía is still in love with her husband and talks to him on the phone. The implication is that Her Majesty misses him and would want him back even if they might not live again under the same (palatial) roof, given that Juan Carlos’ string of extramarital affairs has humiliated Sofía far too deeply — and publicly to boot.

For their part, his daughters, the Infantas Elena and Cristina, visit him regularly in Abu Dhabi.


Related posts
Controversial King Juan Carlos Bids Adios to Public Life
Spain’s King Juan Carlos Says “¿Abdicación? ¡No, Gracias!”
The King Who Left the Palace and Walked Out on the Queen
The King Who’s Stuck in the Orient


> Featured image (montage): Royal Palace/Gary Campbel-Hall via Flickr, CC BY2.0. Juan Carlos/Tico 123 via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA3.0, cropped
> Abu Dhabi corniche/Asima Bibi, CC BY-SA4.0
> Family Christmas 1967-68/photographer unknown/Nationaal Archief Materiaalsoort, CCO
> Felipe VI/Junta de Andalucia, 2019, CC BY-SA2.0, cropped
> Spanish Talgo on the Mecca-Medina Railway/FlyAkwa via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA4.0
> Juan Carlos’ abdication/Ministry of the Presidency Government of Spain
> Prince Juan Carlos and Princess Sofía, 1966/Photographer unknown/Anefo-. CCO
> Queen Sofía with Madrid Mayor Carmena/Diario de Madrid, CC BY4.0