Last month, King Juan Carlos 1 announced that he would leave Spain to live in exile. In a letter to his son, the ruling monarch King Felipe VI, the ex-monarch said he had made the decision to leave the Zarzuela Palace and move abroad because of the controversy caused by “certain incidents in the past”, and to allow his son to continue his reign “in peace and quiet”.

First published in Gazette Life, September 1st 2020.


The decision is a further disgrace in the later career of the man who assumed the monarchy in 1975 following the 40-year dictatorship of General Franco. A supreme court investigation was opened In July into Juan Carlos’s role in a Spanish consortium’s contract to build a rail link between the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina. Swiss prosecutors allege that Juan Carlos received a €100 million account as a “gift” from the Saudi King, and withdrew €100,000 a month from the account between 2008 and 2012.

In 2016 he is alleged to have given his former lover, Corinna Larsen, €65 million from the account.

The revelation of the Swiss account forced King Felipe VI to halt his father’s annual stipend from the state in March, and renounce his own inheritance from his father. However, Juan Carlos will not be stripped of the title “King” yet, although this remains a possibility depending on the result of court cases.

Juan Carlos was already controversial when Franco installed him as monarch just before his death in 1975. His father, Juan, was the true heir to the throne, but was overlooked by Franco for being too liberal. The father initially refused to renounce his claim. Earlier, in 1956, Juan Carlos’s younger brother Alfonso was accidentally shot by the 18 year old Juan Carlos “while cleaning his revolver.”

In 1981, six years after Franco’s death, an attempted coup failed when, in the early hours of the morning, Juan Carlos I made a TV broadcast supporting the elected government. Juan Carlos’s support for democracy hugely improved his reputation. However, his direct involvement in political affairs wasn’t always as well-judged.

In 2012, as Spain continued to suffer from the financial crisis, reports emerged that Juan Carlos had injured himself while hunting elephants in Botswana. Photos of the King alongside a dead elephant disgusted the country. In 2014, Juan Carlos abdicated, saying “I don’t want to see my son wither in waiting like Prince Charles.”

Last month, Juan Carlos was reported to have fled to the royal villa in Estoril, Portugal or a luxury property in the Dominican Republic. However, a photo later emerged of him arriving at Abu Dhabi on the UAE. Born 82 years ago in exile, it looks increasingly likely that the old King may die outside his country, too.