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Spain’s king ‘flees to Caribbean island’

Spain’s former king Juan Carlos, at the centre of an alleged $100-million corruption scandal, has reportedly fled to the Dominican Republic 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”.

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 ex-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.

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POPULAR FOR DECADES

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’s Supreme 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 $100 million (85 million euros) allegedly paid secretly into a Swiss bank account in 2008.

After a series of media revelations, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez spoke out in July saying “the entire Spanish population are receiving disturbing information which is troubling for us all, including me”.

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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‘GRATITUDE’ PAYMENT

An inquiry opened in Spain in September 2018 following the publication of records attributed to German 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.

Swiss media reported last March that Juan Carlos was paid $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.

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”.

Juan Carlos’s shock announcement took most Spaniards by surprise and it dominated headlines and radio and television talk shows on Tuesday.

‘INVOLUNTARY DEPARTURE’

Many Spaniards questioned Tuesday whether former king Juan Carlos is trying to escape responsibility for his actions by moving abroad.

Analysts said the 82-year-old, who has not been charged, did not have much choice even if his departure was poorly received by the public.

According to an online poll carried out by conservative and pro-monarchy daily newspaper ABC, fully 68 per cent of Spaniards think Juan Carlos made the wrong decision.

“He should have stayed, it’s a bit shameful that he left,” said Aranzazu Catalina, a 43-year-old sales assistant at a high-end clothing shop in Madrid, a day after the ex-king made his surprise announcement that he would quit Spain.

Several analysts said the former king had not fled, as anti-monarchists argue, but was in exile.

“It’s an involuntary departure,” said Paloma Roman, politics professor at Madrid’s Complutense University, adding Juan Carlos was pressured to leave by “the government and his own son”.

“Felipe has always tried to soften the blows” against the monarchy as it has been rocked by a series of scandals, she added.

Earlier this year the king withdrew from his father an annual royal allowance of nearly 200,000 euros and renounced his inheritance.

“This is not a king who is fleeing, this is a king that is being kicked out,” said Abel Hernandez, a journalist who was written several books about Juan Carlos.

Juan Carlos is “leaving to prevent his problems from contaminating the institution,” he added.

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