What’s next for Spain’s emeritus king Juan Carlos?

The former monarch will retain his title, keep a permanent guard and be protected from prosecution in the lower courts

Former king Juan Carlos I of Spain in 2018.
Former king Juan Carlos I of Spain in 2018.JAIME REINA (AFP)

Spain’s emeritus king, Juan Carlos I de Borbón y Borbón, may have left Spain for an unknown destination, but his new life abroad will be far from that of an ordinary civilian.

As the former head of state, he will have a permanent guard that operates under the royal household’s head of security, Civil Guard Colonel Miguel Ángel Herráiz, and structurally answers to Spain’s Interior Ministry.

The friends who saw Juan Carlos off on Sunday in Sanxenxo in Galicia said he was accompanied by his personal aide-de-camp. But official sources from La Zarzuela palace, Spain’s royal residence, claimed that “the royal household did not provide any support to the emeritus king, beyond guaranteeing his immediate personal safety.”

Juan Carlos will also continue to hold the honorary title of king, which a royal decree granted to him on June 13, 2014, a few days before his abdication. The former monarch lost his immunity as head of state when he abdicated in 2014. But despite his departure from Spain, he will continue to enjoy aforado status, meaning he is protected from prosecution from the lower courts. This status is set out in a legal reform that was approved less than a month after Juan Carlos’ son, Felipe VI, ascended to the throne. The reform granted aforado status to the emeritus king and queen, as well as to Queen Letizia and Princess Leonor, the heiress to the throne.

Juan Carlos on a boat in Sanxenxo in 2018.
Juan Carlos on a boat in Sanxenxo in 2018.GETTY

But the biggest difference between Juan Carlos and other Spanish citizens is that he will remain a part of the royal family. Felipe VI did not want to exclude him, even though he did strip his sister, the Infanta Cristina, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin of their titles as Duke and Duchess of Palma, following an influence-peddling scandal known as the Nóos case.

Belonging to the royal family does, however, have its downsides; it means that Juan Carlos is subject to the ethics code approved by Felipe VI in January 2015. This code prohibits the acceptance of “gifts exceeding customary social and courtesy uses,” as well as “advantageous favors or services” that could influence a royal member’s actions. The rules do not specify whether it would be acceptable for Juan Carlos to be invited to live in a house at the expense of one of his wealthy friends.

Juan Carlos announced his departure from Spain on Monday amid an ongoing investigation by Swiss and Spanish prosecutors into bank accounts allegedly held by the former monarch in tax havens. In the wake of the probe, Felipe VI renounced all future inheritance from his father and stripped him of his €194,232 yearly stipend.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Tuesday that he has no information about the whereabouts of the former king, while the royal household refused to provide any details, claiming it was a private matter.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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