Spain's former king leaving country amid financial scandal

MADRID — Spain’s former monarch, Juan Carlos I, is leaving Spain to live in another, unspecified, country amid a financial scandal, according to a letter published on the royal family's website Monday.

The letter from Juan Carlos to his son, King Felipe VI, said: "I am informing you of my considered decision to move, during this period, out of Spain."

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Juan Carlos, in the letter, said he made the decision against the backdrop of "public repercussions of certain episodes of my past private life."

He said he wanted to ensure he doesn’t make his son’s role difficult, adding that "my legacy, and my own dignity, demand that it should be so." Juan Carlos' current whereabouts were not known.

Spain’s prime minister recently said he found the developments about Juan Carlos -- including investigations in Spain and Switzerland -- "disturbing."

Since Spain’s Supreme Court opened its probe earlier this year, Spanish media outlets have published damaging testimony from a separate Swiss investigation into millions of euros (dollars) that were allegedly given to Juan Carlos by Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah.

Juan Carlos allegedly then transferred a large amount to a former companion in what investigators are considering as a possible attempt to hide the money from authorities. The companion, Corinna Larsen, is a Danish-German businesswoman long linked by Spanish media to the former king. Spanish prosecutors have asked her to provide testimony in the case in September in Madrid.

The 82-year-old former king is credited with helping Spain peacefully restore democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

But marred by scandals in the later years of his reign, Juan Carlos in 2014 abdicated in favour of his son Felipe VI, losing the immunity from prosecution Spain’s Constitution grants to the head of state.

After media reports claimed Felipe was a beneficiary of an offshore account holding an alleged 65 million-euro gift ( $76 million) from Saudi Arabia to Juan Carlos, Felipe renounced any future personal inheritance he might receive from the former king. Felipe also stripped his father of his annual stipend of 194,232 euros ($228,000.)

The royal house has denied that Felipe had any knowledge of his father’s alleged financial irregularities.

The royal website said in a statement that Felipe respected his father’s decision.

Felipe acknowledged the historic importance of his father’s reign, the statement said, but also "reaffirmed the principles and values on which it stood, in the framework of our Constitution and the rest of our legal system."

A statement from Spain’s general prosecutor’s office in June said it was investigating whether Juan Carlos received millions of dollars in kickbacks from Saudi Arabia during the construction of a high-speed railway there by a Spanish consortium.

It called the probe one of "undeniable technical complexity."

The Supreme Court investigation centres on developments after mid-2014. That covers the second phase of the 2011 contract for the bullet train between the Saudi cities of Medina and Mecca — the so-called "AVE of the desert" in reference to the acronym for high-speed trains in Spain.

The date marks the moment when Juan Carlos, struggling amid several scandals, passed on the throne to his son after holding it for nearly four decades.

Though Juan Carlos’ finances have been questioned in Spanish media for years, there have so far been no legal implications for him. Spanish lawmakers have rejected at least two proposals since the first allegations emerged to open parliamentary investigations.

The decision to leave Spain means Juan Carlos will vacate the 17th-century Zarzuela palace in Madrid, his home for more than 50 years. He moved there after marrying the former queen, Sofia, in 1963.

"I think he didn’t have any other choice than to leave," said Carmen Torras, a 66-year-old Barcelona resident. "I hope justice can follow its course."

In Madrid, Nadia Rodriguez, 33, welcomed the former king's decision.

"It's better that he just goes," said Rodriguez, a sports teacher. "The truth is that he hasn’t been giving a very good image of Spain."

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Hatton reported from Lisbon. Associated Press journalist Renata Brito in Barcelona contributed to this report.

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