Former King of Spain Goes Into Exile Amid Allegations of Tax Evasion, Infidelity, and Elephant Hunting

Barbie Latza Nadeau
·3 min read
Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images
Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Juan Carlos I, the former king of Spain, has gone into exile. He abdicated power in 2014 after breaking his hip on an African elephant hunting safari, where it emerged he was killing big game with a woman who was not Queen Sofia. The former monarch is concurrently under investigation for financial mischief in Spain and Switzerland.

The Crazy Private Life of Juan Carlos, Spain’s Royal Horndog

Juan Carlos I’s abdication just six years ago scandalized the Spanish nation after it was revealed the hunting foray in Botswana was subsidized by a Syrian-born Saudi businessman named Mohamed Eyad Kayali, who remains a key adviser to Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud.

Kayali reportedly furnished a bespoke private jet for the hunting jaunt to grease the wheels for a $9.9 billion bullet-train construction project in Saudi Arabia, which was eventually awarded to a Spanish firm over a French competitor.

The former king allegedly received $100 million in 2008 from Saudi coffers, which is thought to be squirreled away in a Swiss bank account. It is that deal the former king is now being investigated for, and which has apparently prompted his quick departure to an undisclosed location for an uncertain amount of time.

No charges have been filed against the former king. His lawyer Javier Sánchez-Junco Mans said in a statement that his client will make himself available for any aspect of the inquiry should the need arise.

The then-king’s alleged paramour on the African hunting junket was a German princess named Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. As one often does in delicate cases such as this, the aristocrat denied being the former king’s longtime mistress despite reports to the contrary. She instead called her role that of a strategic adviser to the Spanish government, despite sharing a glamping tent on the safari during which the then-king broke his hip while shooting an elephant.

“The king is a national treasure,” the princess told The New York Times in 2014, after being asked why she was on the hunting trip. “When he walks into a room, he radiates warmth and charisma and he connects with everybody. Nobody remains untouched by it.”

The former king, who is still loved in many corners of Spanish society, is credited with guiding Spain into a democracy following the 1975 death of the country’s former fascist leader General Francisco Franco.

In a letter to his son, King Felipe VI, made public late Monday, the 82-year-old wrote that he made the decision to flee Spain to avoid additional problems for his son due to “public repercussions certain episodes of my past private life are generating.”

In the portion of the letter made public, he wrote of his decision to leave because “my legacy and my own dignity, demand that it should be so.”

Queen Sofia, 81, is reportedly not accompanying her husband in exile, according to Spanish press reports, and will continue her summer holiday on the Spanish island of Mallorca. The whereabouts of the German princess, however, are unknown.

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