Juan Carlos I: a slow but steady fall from grace


Spain continues to re-evaluate the legacy of its former monarch, King Juan Carlos I. The man once revered as the architect of Spanish democracy has become mired in allegations of financial misconduct.

In early August, the former monarch announced in a letter to his son, King Felipe VI, his decision to leave Spain, in a self-imposed exile designed to allow the House of Borbón to distance itself from “the public repercussions that some past events are generating.” Trouble has mounted for the disgraced former king in recent months. In March, Switzerland’s la Tribune de Genève newspaper reported that Juan Carlos had been gifted $100 million by the late Saudi King Abdullah. In June, the Spanish supreme court began investigating the former monarch’s involvement in the 2011 decision to award a contract for a high-speed rail line between Mecca and Medina to a Spanish consortium. 

There had been hope that his abdication in 2014 would lay to rest the increasingly negative barrage of publicity surrounding the monarchy. Anger against the Juan Carlos I first erupted in 2012, when it emerged that he had gone on a €40,000 holiday to Botswana with his mistress whilst the country battled the effects of the financial crisis. This consternation only grew when it became known that the trip was financed by a Saudi businessman – last week’s revelation that Juan Carlos had left Spain for Saudi Arabia, the centre of the corruption allegations, has further raised eyebrows.

On Thursday, Barcelona’s city council voted to strip the former king of all awards he received from the city, including its highest honour. He is lauded by many as both the engineer and protector of Spanish democracy following the dark days of Franco’s rule, making the re-evaluation of his legacy a bitter pill to swallow for many Spaniards. His departure from Spain has done little to quell the increasing unease – the path ahead for the Spanish monarchy looks to be paved with difficulties.

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