Former King Juan Carlos to Return to Spain After Two-Year Exile

The former monarch has been living in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates amid his financial scandal

King Juan Carlos of Spain
King Juan Carlos of Spain. Photo: Daniel Perez/Getty

Spain's former King Juan Carlos will return to the country for a brief visit after nearly two years in exile in Abu Dhabi, Spain's royal palace confirmed on Wednesday.

The ex-king, who fled Spain amid allegations of tax fraud and money laundering, is due to arrive on Thursday, according to Spain's royal palace. During his visit, he will attend a yachting event and briefly visit his family before returning on Monday to Abu Dhabi, where he has lived in self-exile since August 2020.

Juan Carlos will stay in the northwestern town of Sanxenxo through the weekend. On Monday, he will travel to Madrid to visit his son King Felipe VI, his wife Queen Sofia and other members of his family at Zarzuela Palace, according to the palace.

"That same day, His Majesty King Juan Carlos will travel back to Abu Dhabi, where he has established his permanent and stable residence," a statement on the palace's website read.

The visit "is part of His Majesty King Juan Carlos' desire to travel frequently to Spain to visit family and friends, organize his personal life and his place of residence in areas of a private nature, as expressed in the letter addressed to His Majesty the King on March 5," the statement concluded.

King Felipe VI of Spain and King Juan Carlos
King Felipe VI of Spain and former King Juan Carlos.

His trip to Spain, which he led as King until his abdication in 2014, will be a personal one. While his daughters have both traveled to Abu Dhabi to visit him, neither his son nor Queen Sofia — his wife of 60 years — have seen him in nearly two years. Another reason for his return is to attend the sailing regatta in Sanxenxo, which will see The Bribon — a yacht he captained in 2017 — compete.

Juan Carlos' brief return comes two months after Spain's Public Prosecutor's Office announced that it dropped three separate investigations into the former King's financial affairs, citing insufficient evidence, the statute of limitations, and immunity he held while serving as head of state.

A similar investigation opened by Swiss authorities concerning "aggravated money laundering" was dropped in Geneva in December for the same reasons.

In making its announcement, the Spanish prosecutor stressed its decision did not mean absolution.

"The public prosecutor wishes to make it clear that, despite the investigation, no criminal action can be taken against His Majesty Juan Carlos de Borbón for the reasons outlined in the decree – basically the lack of incriminating evidence, the statute of limitations, the inviolability of the head of state, and tax regularisation," the Public Prosecutor's Office said in a statement read, according to The Guardian.

King Juan Carlos Queen Sofia of Spain
Queen Sofia and King Juan Carlos in 2017. Carlos R. Alvarez/WireImage

Days after the formal end of the Spanish investigations, Juan Carlos wrote his son King Felipe VI a public letter announcing the terms by which he intended to end his self-imposed exile, while also stating it was his intention to remain in exile until they were met.

In the unprecedented letter, which was published on March 8, Juan Carlos stated his desire to eventually travel to Spain to see family and friends on vacation but chose at that time to remain based on the island of Zaya Nurai, which is 15 minutes by boat from the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

"It seems appropriate to consider my return to Spain, although not immediately," the former monarch stated. "I prefer, at this time, for reasons that belong to my private sphere and that only affect me, to continue residing permanently and stable in Abu Dhabi, where I have found peace of mind, especially for this period of my life.

"[It is] a place to which I have adapted my way of life and to which I greatly appreciate its magnificent hospitality. Naturally, I will frequently return to Spain, which I always carry in my heart, to visit family and friends."

In his letter, Juan Carlos also expressed remorse for the financial scandals for the first time, writing that he sincerely regretted "the past events of my private life" and stating his sorrow at how the investigations had tainted "public opinion" of the Spanish royal family.

Yet he tempered this by keeping the door slightly ajar on a permanent, if low-key, move back to his homeland, which he ruled between 1975 and 2014 following the demise of the brutal regime led by dictator General Franco.

"Both in my visits and if in the future I return to reside in Spain, it is my purpose to organize my personal life and my place of residence in areas of a private nature to continue enjoying the greatest possible privacy," wrote Juan Carlos. "I would like to end this stage of my life from the serenity and perspective offered by the time that has elapsed. As you well know, in 2019 I informed you of my desire to withdraw from public life, and I will continue to do so."

King Felipe VI of Spain and King Juan Carlos

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The former king wrote privately to King Felipe VI but included his wish for the letter's contents to be made public at his son's choice.

"Whenever it seems good to you, it is my wish that you make this letter public, for the knowledge of all Spaniards and on the date you deem appropriate. Loyalty and the immense pride I feel for you, Your Father," he wrote.

Though Juan Carlos withdrew from public life in May 2019, his son King Felipe VI further distanced himself from his father's scandals by taking the unusual step of renouncing the ex-king's fortune and ending his $215,000 annual state pension in March 2020.

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