MADRID — At Casa Lucio, an old style eatery close to the royal palace in Madrid that the previous Spanish king, Juan Carlos, used to frequent, individuals chattered on a latest afternoon concerning the disgraced monarch’s doable return. Javier Blázquez, whose household owns the restaurant, mentioned he was able to welcome again his favourite visitor.
In 2014, after a raft of scandals, the king of nearly 40 years abdicated the throne. When prosecutors started investigating his funds, he mysteriously vanished in 2020, then he resurfaced weeks later within the United Arab Emirates, the place the Spanish prosecutors couldn’t attain him.
However latest months have seen a flip of luck for Juan Carlos, 83. Numerous the instances towards him have both been dropped or cleared up, resulting in calls from some Spaniards to let him come house with out concern of spending the remainder of his life in jail.
“I’m pleased for him to come back again,” Mr. Blázquez mentioned. “The reign of Juan Carlos introduced the longest period of peace and prosperity for Spain.”
It was a steep fall from grace for a monarch who was beloved by Spaniards within the sort of adoring method that many Britons revere Queen Elizabeth II. He was credited with restoring Spanish democracy and uniting the nation after the dictator Francisco Franco, who died in 1975, made Juan Carlos his successor.
Issues started to lookup for former king when prosecutors in Switzerland mentioned lately that they’d drop a money-laundering case towards Juan Carlos that concerned kickbacks for a high-speed rail line in Saudi Arabia and for a Spanish firm. One other investigation in Spain was paused this yr after Juan Carlos paid greater than 5 million euros of again taxes in 2020 and 2021.
And Spain’s prosecutors say they see little hope for fulfillment in a raft of remaining corruption instances as a result of the alleged wrongdoing happened earlier than the abdication, when Juan Carlos had immunity from prosecution.
“It’s solely logical that he comes and he stays right here,” Felipe González, Spain’s former prime minister, mentioned this month.
The nation’s present prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, mentioned lately that the royal household had not consulted him on a doable return and that Juan Carlos nonetheless “wants to present a proof” for his scandals, although it isn’t clear what that may entail.
A spokesman for the royal household didn’t reply to a request for remark.
Iñaki Gabilondo, a Spanish journalist who spent many years as an anchor on the nation’s main information reveals, mentioned whether or not Juan Carlos was allowed to return to Spain appeared inappropriate: The truth that he needed to flee the nation and pay tens of millions in again taxes had finished lasting injury to him and his household.
“He may be free from the regulation, however his popularity is left fully stained,” Mr. Gabilondo mentioned.
Juan Carlos as soon as loved broad help throughout the political spectrum, mirrored in an outdated Spanish motto that goes, “I’m not a monarchist, I’m a Juan Carlist.”
A lot of that good will was historic.
Although designated as Franco’s inheritor, Juan Carlos largely shunned the dictator’s legacy and secretly met with opposition politicians to plan Spain’s transition to a democracy.
In 1981, when Spanish troopers burst into the Congress with weapons, Juan Carlos took to tv to denounce them, a transfer credited with ending the coup and saving Spanish democracy.
For years, Juan Carlos seemed to be operating a brand new sort of monarchy, Mr. Gabilondo mentioned.
“It was meant to be the crown with out the trimmings of the courtroom,” he mentioned, including that many had hoped Juan Carlos’s reign can be with out the lavishness and palace intrigue that have been typical of different monarchies.
However for some, the corruption scandals and information that he could return having gotten off just about scot-free has tarnished the picture of Juan Carlos and all the royal household, particularly his son, Felipe VI, who’s at the moment king.
“Some other one that occupies the identical place can merely do the identical factor,” mentioned Ione Belarra, Spain’s social rights minister, who belongs to the left-wing Podemos occasion.
Luis Galán Soldevilla, a regulation skilled on the College of Córdoba, mentioned the problem for prosecutors was not simply constructing difficult instances that crossed worldwide borders, but in addition the truth that the goal was a former head of state.
One of many key instances investigated each in Spain and Switzerland needed to do with a high-speed rail line connecting the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina.
In tapes printed within the Spanish information media, Corinna Larsen — a girl who claims she was a lover of Juan Carlos’s — and a high-ranking former police officer allegedly speak of Juan Carlos receiving a $100 million kickback fee for serving to get the contract to the Spanish agency that constructed the road. The royal household has neither confirmed nor denied a relationship.
One other high-profile case concerned accusations that Juan Carlos had taken out massive sums of cash utilizing bank cards that weren’t in his identify, however somewhat have been registered underneath two offshore foundations based mostly in Panama and Lichtenstein.
By funneling his cash by means of the foundations, Juan Carlos would have been in a position to keep away from paying taxes on his luxurious life-style, which included the purchases of horses, in accordance with studies within the Spanish information media that cited investigators.
Nonetheless, Mr. Soldevilla famous, the 2 investigations needed to do with occasions that happened whereas Juan Carlos was king, and couldn’t be prosecuted underneath the Spanish Structure. And the again tax funds that Juan Carlos made rendered the case moot.
“You may discuss morality, however that is the scope of the regulation,” Mr. Soldevilla mentioned, talking of the problem of immunity.
One scandal, nevertheless, has but to be resolved.
A courtroom case filed by Ms. Larsen claims that the previous king spied on her with the assistance of Spain’s intelligence companies. A courtroom in Britain, the place Ms. Larsen lives, has issued her a restraining order towards the previous king, however thus far has not determined whether or not the case could proceed as Juan Carlos can be searching for immunity there.
Such claims have left a bitter style within the mouths of some in Spain, particularly on the left.
“The impunity that Juan Carlos enjoys degrades the democratic bona fides of Spanish establishments, beginning with the justice system that appears incapable of making use of the identical requirements to the highly effective because it does to regular residents,” mentioned Enrique Santiago, the secretary of Spain’s Communist Get together.
The king’s followers see issues in a different way, in fact.
Mr. Gabilondo, the information anchor, mentioned it was a disgrace that the previous king had left Spain so divided over his return given Juan Carlos’s position in uniting the nation after the dictatorship.
“The determine of Juan Carlos has turn into precisely the alternative of what it as soon as was,” he mentioned. “For years, he was the massive consider our nationwide concord, now he’s the supply of discord. And his return can be a good greater drawback for that.”
José Bautista contributed reporting.