In Brief

Here today, Juan tomorrow: why Spain’s former king has fled into exile

Corruption scandal threatens to tarnish legacy of monarch who re-established Spanish democracy

Spain’s former king Juan Carlos has gone into exile following the launch an investigation into his finances by state prosecutors.

“It is a humiliating exit for a king who had once seemed set to go down in history as the leader who skilfully guided Spain from dictatorship to democracy after the death of General Franco in 1975,” says the BBC.

The whereabouts of the 82-year-old are not known. A royal source told CNN “that the former monarch ‘has left already’, but declined to reveal where he has gone”.

The former king announced yesterday that he was leaving, “a decision I make with deep emotion but great serenity”, in a letter to his son and successor, King Felipe VI. Juan Carlos wrote that his departure would “best serve the people of Spain, its institutions, and you as king”.

The abrupt exit was prompted by “the opening of a supreme court investigation into suspected payments related to a €7bn [£6.3bn] high-speed rail project in Saudi Arabia”, the Financial Times reports. The contract to build a rail link between Mecca and Medina was awarded to a Spanish consortium in 2011.

Prosecutors in Spain and Switzerland are investigating links between that deal and “documents that allege Juan Carlos may have received $100m [£77m] from Saudi Arabia's king in 2008”, says CNN.

In the meantime, life as an emigre may come easily to the former king. “He was born in exile as well, in Rome,” says the Financial Times, “and served as Spain’s king for almost 40 years, starting upon the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.”

Although Juan Carlos was celebrated for his role in establishing democracy and thwarting a military coup in 1981, his reign ended in ignominy. He abdicated in 2014 “following a corruption investigation involving his daughter's husband and a controversial elephant hunting trip the monarch took during Spain’s financial crisis”, the BBC reports.

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