Controversies, Tax Fraud & Abdication: The Rise And Fall Of Former Spanish King Juan Carlos

ET Bureau|
Tracing The Tumultuous Journey
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Tracing The Tumultuous Journey

When Spaniards stepped out on to their balconies last week to bang pots and pans, it wasn’t to thank health workers during the lockdown. It was to call on former king Juan Carlos to acknowledge the millions he allegedly received from Saudi Arabia, and asking him to donate it to the Spanish healthcare system.

It was the latest twist in a scandal that has seen Juan Carlos — the man credited to have overseen Spain’s peaceful transition from a dictatorship to a democracy — being stripped of his allowance amid calls that the monarchy be abolished altogether.

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Ascension To Power
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Ascension To Power

Juan Carlos became king of Spain in November 1975, two days after dictator General Franco’s death. But if Franco had expected Juan Carlos to continue his autocratic legacy, it went in the opposite direction altogether. The new king established a democracy, and within three years of taking charge, approved the Constitution. In 1981, there was an attempted coup d’etat in his name, where parliamentarians were held hostage for 18 hours. King Juan Carlos denounced this, following which the hostage takers surrendered.

By the turn of the century, Juan Carlos’s popularity had soared to a point that one survey named him the most popular leader in the entire Spanish-speaking world.

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Controversies
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Controversies

However, a flailing economy and a series of scandals meant the royal family’s popularity plunged to its lowest level since the monarchy’s restoration. The first of these came during an elephant hunting trip to Botswana, in 2012. The cost of the entire trip was estimated to be at about 44,000 euros, twice the average annual salary in Spain at the time. In addition, he was, ironically enough, the honorary president of the Spanish branch of the WWF. To defuse the situation, he apologised publicly.

(In pic: File photo of Former King of Spain, Juan Carlos I of Spain, and Sofia of Spain attend a ceremony to celebrate Carlos's 80th birthday, in January 2018 in Madrid, Spain.

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Economy
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Economy

The Spanish economic downturn meant unemployment was between 23 and 50 per cent. It resulted in near-unprecedented scrutiny of the royal family and its exorbitant lifestyle. While Spain cut costs on civil services and healthcare, taxpayers continued to fund the royal family, prompting politicians and the media to turn on the king.

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Tax Fraud
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Tax Fraud

Amid all this, Princess Cristina (inset), Juan Carlos’s younger daughter, was charged with tax fraud and money-laundering. Her husband, former Olympian Inaki Urdangarin, was also charged with fraud, tax evasion, falsifying documents and embezzlement of six million euros in public funds through his charitable foundation. By the turn of 2014, Cristina became the first modern Spanish royal to face court prosecution.

In pic: (L-R) Former Queen of Spain Sofia, former King of Spain Juan Carlos I and Spain's Princess Leonor; Princess Cristina (inset)

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Abdication
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Abdication

Juan Carlos (R) formally abdicated his throne in 2014, paving the way for his son, Felipe (L), to become king. However, despite stepping away from public life, he continued to receive an annual stipend of 194,000 euros.

(Image: AFP)

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The Final Straw
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The Final Straw

A report in La Tribune de Geneve newspaper said that Juan Carlos, who was king at the time, allegedly received $100 million from Saudi Arabia in 2014. It added that he gave $65 million to Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a German aristocrat who had earlier said she had an “intimate friendship” with the king. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported that Felipe too was named a beneficiary of the Lucum Foundation fund upon his father’s death, as well as that of another fund, Zagatka. Responding to this, Felipe said he had told his father that he did not want to be a beneficiary. Moving swiftly, Felipe renounced any future personal inheritance from his father, and also stripped Juan Carlos of his retirement allowance.

(Image: Reuters)

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