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Juan Carlos I: Former king's first return to Spain in two years ignites debate

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By Euronews & AP
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Spain's former King Juan Carlos waves during a bullfight at the bullring in Aranjuez, Madrid, Spain, Sunday, June 2, 2019
Spain's former King Juan Carlos waves during a bullfight at the bullring in Aranjuez, Madrid, Spain, Sunday, June 2, 2019   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

Spain's former king Juan Carlos I is set to return home on Thursday after nearly two years in self-imposed exile.

He went to the United Arab Emirates in 2020 against a backdrop of scandals over his finances.

The royal household said the 84-year-old would first visit the northwestern town of Sanxenxo, where a yachting event is scheduled. He plans to travel to Madrid on Monday to see his son, King Felipe VI, and other members of the royal family, the palace said in a statement.

The royal palace said the ex-king would return on Monday to his “permanent and stable residence” in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It said his visit reflects Juan Carlos’ desire to “travel frequently to Spain to visit family and friends”.

News of the former king's imminent return divided opinion among the country's politicians.

“I think all Spanish citizens deserve an explanation,” Spain’s minister for economic affairs, Nadia Calviño, told broadcaster Cadena Ser on Thursday.

Yolanda Díaz, the second deputy prime minister and a senior member of the United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party, echoed that view.

“To me, it doesn't matter where the king is,” she told reporters. “What I do believe, for the dignity of an institution like the Royal House — and this is coming from someone who is not a monarchist — is that he should be held accountable and explain to Spaniards what he did while he was the head of state.”

Others said it was time to turn the page. “Prosecutors have already said that there were irregularities and that these irregularities are not subject to criminal prosecution,” said Edmundo Bal, spokesperson for the Ciudadanos party. “That’s it. Period.”

Spanish prosecutors didn’t find evidence to take the former monarch to court because much of the alleged misbehaviour, involving millions of euros (dollars) in undeclared accounts, happened when Juan Carlos had legal immunity as Spain’s king. Other acts of potential fraud fell outside the statute of limitations.

The investigations led to the recovery of 5.1 million euros ($5.4 million) in fines and taxes for income that Juan Carlos had failed to declare to Spanish tax authorities, the prosecutors said in their conclusions.