Spain's scandal-hit former king flees into exile

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Spain's scandal-hit former king flees into exile

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

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MADRID,Spain(AFP)—Spain's former king Juan Carlos, at the centre of an alleged US$100-million corruption scandal, has reportedly fled to the Dominican Republic or Portugal after his shock announcement he was going into exile.

The 82-year-old revealed on Monday that he had taken the decision to leave Spain to help his son, the current King Felipe VI, "exercise his responsibilities".

The letter, published on the royal palace's website, did not mention where the former king would go, nor when exactly he would leave the country.

But on Tuesday, daily newspaper ABC reported that he left Spain on Sunday and flew to the Dominican Republic via Portugal.

The La Vanguardia and El Mundo dailies similarly said he planned to stay with friends in the Caribbean country, but online newspaper El Confidencial said he could be in Portugal, where he spent part of his youth, or in France or Italy.

Asked by AFP about the reports, a royal palace spokesman refused to give any information about Juan Carlos's whereabouts.

"The only information we have is the information which was published on the website of the royal palace yesterday. It is the only information which we have," he said.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he did not know where the former head of state had gone and suggested that King Felipe VI had pressured his father to go abroad.

"The government and I completely respect the decision of the royal palace to distance itself from the questionable and reprehensible conduct" of a member of the royal family, he added during a press conference.

- Saudi funds -

The former head of state has been under a cloud since various media reported that he allegedly received funds from Saudi Arabia and probes are now under way in both Switzerland and Spain.

Spain'sSupreme Court announced in June an investigation to determine the legal responsibility of the ex-monarch -- but only for acts committed after his abdication in 2014, because of the immunity he holds.

The suspicions centre on US$100 million (85 million euros) allegedly paid secretly into a Swiss bank account in 2008.

An inquiry opened in Spain in September 2018 following the publication of records attributed toGerman businesswoman Corinna Larsen, a former mistress of Juan Carlos.

She claimed he had received a commission when a consortium of Spanish companies were awarded a high-speed railway contract to link the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Larsen told Swiss investigators he had transferred to her nearly 65 million euros in the Bahamas, "not to get rid of the money", but "out of gratitude and out of love", according to El Pais daily.

- 'Distanced itself' -

Swiss media reported last March that Juan Carlos was paid US$100 million into a Panamanian foundation's Swiss bank account by late Saudi king Abdullah in 2008.

The same month, The Daily Telegraph in Britain reported that Felipe VI was also a beneficiary of the foundation.

In response, the king withdrew from his father an annual royal allowance of nearly 200,000 euros and renounced his inheritance "to preserve the exemplariness of the crown".

"The media have done their job in denouncing these alleged irregular practices, judges and prosecutors have taken action...and the Royal House has distanced itself from these alleged behaviours, and I stress alleged, which could be irregular," Sanchez said.

The former king's lawyer, Javier Sanchez-Junco, issued a statement Monday saying his client was not trying to escape justice by going into exile and would remain available to prosecutors.

Juan Carlos ascended the throne in 1975 on the death of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco and ruled for 38 years before abdicating in favour of his son Felipe VI in June 2014.

He was a popular figure for decades, playing a key role in the democratic transition from the Franco dictatorship which ruled Spain from 1939-1975.

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