Spain's former king, Juan Carlos, aboard his yacht upon his return to Spain. / EFE

Washed up

The emeritus king seemingly showed signs of selective amnesia after returning to Spain for the first time in ove two years

Mark Nayler
MARK NAYLER

Spain's former king, Juan Carlos, finally returned to his home country last week, after a long exile in the United Arab Emirates. Once back on Spanish soil, he travelled straight to the Zarzuela Royal Palace in Madrid, where he met publicly with his son, the currently enthroned Felipe VI, for the first time in two years.

Juan Carlos, 84, then proceeded to give an emotional press conference to a horde of journalists and photographers, in which he explained - or at least tried to - why Spanish and Swiss authorities launched investigations into his off-book finances, maintained his innocence of the investigators' suspicions and apologised to Felipe and Spain's dwindling population of monarchists for bringing the royal household into disrepute. The public reconciliation and apology is expected to restore some of the faith in the monarchy that has been lost since the latest Juan Carlos scandal broke in August 2020.

None of that happened, obviously. Well, some of it did: Juan Carlos did return to Spain last Thursday, after a luxurious two-year exile in Abu Dhabi. But it was for something much more pressing than a public apology or a reconciliation with Felipe. When asked by a journalist in the Galician town of Sanxenxo, where the emeritus king attended a regatta, whether he'd be explaining anything about the financial scandals in his meeting with Felipe a few days later, Juan Carlos showed signs of suffering from (highly selective) amnesia: "Explanations? What about?" he replied - or should that be "quipped"?

This was either an attempt at wit, a sign of senility or the expression of a staggering yet predictable complacency. "What about?"

Well, let's see - everything that's been happening over the last few years, old boy! Juan Carlos's reply could also be construed as expressing an assumption of absolute unaccountability, almost as an allusion to the regal immunity that he possessed before his abdication in 2014. But as a London court ruled recently in an ongoing harassment case against the ex-king, brought by his former mistress Corinna Larsen, the yachting enthusiast no longer benefits from such a status.

Maybe the explanations demanded by the Spanish government and people will be provided next month, when the emeritus king is rumoured to be planning another visit to Spain.

This, perhaps, will be the occasion for the live-streamed press conference, in which Juan Carlos dissolves the mysteries surrounding his finances and makes an official, public reconciliation with Felipe. Even better, perhaps it will be the occasion for an awkwardly timed announcement by the government of a referendum on the monarchy's future, or at least on the Constitutional changes necessary to create a republic.

No: there's another boat bash in Sanxenxo.