August 3rd, 2020, during the first summer of the pandemic. It had been just two months since Spaniards had emerged from a long hard lockdown, vaccination against Covid had not yet begun and the state had only suffered one wave of the virus. In this coronavirus-marked context, and with the Spanish royal family on summer holiday in Mallorca, the royal house published a letter in which former king Juan Carlos I explained to his son Felipe VI, and to the entire country, that he had decided to leave Spain. The king emeritus had fled, under pressure because of the expanding judicial investigations into the origin of his fortune in Switzerland, or, as he himself put it, "in the face of the public repercussion that certain past events in my private life are generating."
At first, it was not known where Juan Carlos had gone: after four days in parts unknown and with the Pedro Sánchez government busily denying that he was on the run from justice, there were suggestions that he was in Galicia (which ended up providing him with an excuse for a brief return visit, to watch yacht races), the Portuguese town of Estoril (where he grew up) and even the Dominican Republic. But all the guesses were wrong. Juan Carlos I was in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, where he has lived ever since and from where he has neither the intention nor the opportunity of a permanent return.
Null relationship with Felipe VI
Despite the thousands of kilometres that separate him from what is still his official residence, the palace of La Zarzuela in Madrid, the abdicated monarch has not ceased to be a protagonist during all this time. In two years he has only once been seen with his son Felipe VI or his wife, Queen Sofía - who was infected with coronavirus at the time - when he returned this May to watch a yacht race in Sanxenxo, the only time he has reappeared in Spain. He has not coincided with the current heiress, his granddaughter Leonor, although he has been visited by his two daughters, the infantas Elena and Cristina and their respective children, who have several times travelled to his luxury hideout and have even shared photos, although photoshopped. In fact, the nature of his Middle Eastern abode has been one of the topics on which most journalistic ink has flowed since August 3rd, 2020 and it has emerged that he lives in a private villa on the island of Zaya Nurai which has six bedrooms, a heliport, a beach and a pool.
"An explanation of what?"
Juan Carlos I's flight from Spain occurred at a very tense moment in the relationship between father and son, which has not, in any case, improved over these two years, but rather has worsened, especially due to the attitude shown by the emeritus in June in Galicia, where he not only refused to give any explanation to his subjects, but he rejected doing so in a mocking tone that generated a lot of indignation. His curt "An explanations of what?" in response to a journalist's attempt to draw him out has already become one of his best-known quotes, along with the time he said "Why don't you shut up?" to Hugo Chávez, and the immortal "I'm sorry, I made a mistake and it won't happen again" which constituted his attempt to apologize publicly after the accident in Botswana that marked the beginning of the end of his reign: in the midst of the economic crisis at home, he had gone to hunt elephants in Africa and when he broke his hip and required repatriation, his relationship with the businesswoman Corinna Larsen was revealed. These last two years have also seen the publication of the book Mon Roi Déchu, whose author Laurence Debray asserted that Felipe did not call even give his dad a call on his first birthday away from the palace, although this was later denied.
From the first moment he left Spain, the Pedro Sánchez government sought to characterise his departure as not the flight of a fugitive but a personal decision of the emeritus, while cabinet ministers and spokespeople took advantage of the subject to praise the work of Felipe VI, something they have not stopped doing for the last 24 months, holding him up for comparison with the controversial figure of his father so that, in the opinion of the Socialists at least, he would appear an exemplary king. However, when he decided to return to Sanxenxo, the PSOE were upset with his attitude and expressed their disappointment that he had failed to give any explanation. One of the most critical was the former deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, who spoke of "disgrace". Curiously, in 2020, when she was still Sánchez's number two, she was the one who, behind the scenes, made a deal with the royal house on the details of Juan Carlos's exit from the Kingdom of Spain.
Controversy over the infantas' vaccinations
In one of their frequent visits to their father, the infantas Cristina and Elena starred in one of the most controversial moments of this period when they decided to get vaccinated in the United Arab Emirates, thus jumping the queue in relation to many Spaniards who were in situations of risk, since at that time Covid jabs were reaching Spain very slowly. The ex-king has rarely been seen in Abu Dhabi and his outings have been limited, but he made an exception to watch Rafael Nadal play a match, and met the tennis legend after the tournament. The Mallorcan was infected with coronavirus at the time and it was suggested that he had infected the former head of state, but it didn't happen.
Since the day that Juan Carlos I left, there has been constant speculation about his return. But not only does it not have a date set, it has, in fact, been practically ruled out that he will return to Spain permanently - as he himself assured in a letter addressed to Felipe VI, with a text agreed between the royal house and the Spanish government, in which he announced that if he returned it would be just for a few days before flying back to Abu Dhabi. And that's how it was when he breezed into Sanxenxo to sail in Galician waters before taking off again from Madrid-Barajas.
Corruption investigations dropped
The fact that at the beginning of March the Spanish public prosecutors decided to close all the investigations that had precipitated the farewell of the former monarch paved the way for his first return visit in May - not, it was stressed, because of the absence of financial impropriety but because of his royal inviolability and other factors. During that two month interval, comments made by friends of the abdicated king who visited him revealed that his desire was to be able to return to the state over which he once reigned and from which he had the sensation of having been expelled. He got his wish during the visit to Sanxenxo, which subsequently also provided the opportunity for his reunion with his son, two days later in Madrid. In Galicia, despite some critical voices, he was acclaimed and applauded, received at the airport as if he were a star, but in La Zarzuela his meeting with Felipe was much more complicated and tense.
Next stop, Portugal
Visits similar to his Galician trip will be the most common from now on, and the former king will continue to live in Abu Dhabi - if there is no turn of events, at least - and he will come to Spain for a few days when he wants to or can. At the moment, since the yacht races of May, he has not set foot in the Spnish state again and, although it seemed that in August he might return to escape the heat of the desert, this possibility has been ruled out and it seems that his next destination could be Portugal, specifically Cascais, but in September. There, he is expected to take part in a new regatta, the European championship in the Six Metre class. It seems that his visits to Spain or the Iberian Peninsula will be governed by the winds of sailing competitions rather than responding to an agreement with Felipe VI, one of the main reasons that Juan Carlos will not be able to once again make his residence in Spain again, while he also awaits news of the only investigation against the opaque affairs of his past which is still open, the one being heard in Her Majesty's Courts in the UK.