Former King Juan Carlos returns to Spain for first time in 2 years amid controversy after exile


TOPSHOT – Spain’s former king Juan Carlos I waves from his boat ‘Bribon’ as he watches the InterRias Spanish Cup 6M Trophy regatta in the northwestern Galician town of Sanxenxo of Spain, May 21, 2022. – The former king of Spain returned to the country on May 19, 2022 for his first visit since leaving nearly two years ago following a series of financial scandals . (Photo by Brais Lorenzo/AFP) (Photo by BRAIS LORENZO/AFP via Getty Images)

BRAIS LORENZO/AFP via Getty

Juan Carlos I of Spain returned from exile on Thursday to a mixture of cheers and potential controversy.

The ex-king of Spain, 84, who fled Spain under a financial cloud two years ago, arrived by private flight for a weekend visit to Vigo airfield on the Galician coast of northwest Spain.

The purpose and itinerary of his four-day return, officially announced the day before and essentially motivated by the former king’s desire to participate in a sailing regatta – aboard a ship called “The Rascal” – provoked considerable waves and government embarrassment.

Dressed in a blue blazer and walking with a cane, Juan Carlos was met and kissed by his daughter, Princess Elena, at the airport (who curtsied to him) alongside a crush of reporters. While the ex-king has not spoken to reporters publicly, the Spanish newspaper El País reported his weekend host, boat owner Pedro Campos, saying the former king was “very excited” about his return.

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“He’s in a good mood, very enthusiastic about returning to Spain. That’s the main message he gave me,” Campos reportedly said, adding that Juan Carlos was “fully aware” that his return had generated “a lot of expectations”.

Spain's former King Juan Carlos I sits in a car after landing a private jet at Peinador Airport in Vigo, Pontevedra, on May 19, 2022, before heading to the northwestern resort town of Sanxenxo to attend a three-day regatta.  - After nearly two years in exile in the United Arab Emirates following a series of financial scandals, the former king of Spain is making his first trip home on May 19, 2022, during a brief visit that has aroused much criticism.  (Photo by Brais Lorenzo/AFP) (Photo by BRAIS LORENZO/AFP via Getty Images)

Spain’s former King Juan Carlos I sits in a car after landing a private jet at Peinador Airport in Vigo, Pontevedra, on May 19, 2022, before heading to the northwestern resort town of Sanxenxo to attend a three-day regatta. – After nearly two years in exile in the United Arab Emirates following a series of financial scandals, the former king of Spain is making his first trip home on May 19, 2022, during a brief visit that has aroused much criticism. (Photo by Brais Lorenzo/AFP) (Photo by BRAIS LORENZO/AFP via Getty Images)

BRAIS LORENZO/AFP via Getty

On Friday morning, the ex-king marched out of the luxurious Campos resort on the Sanxenxo coast to be greeted by the town’s mayor, Telmo Martin Gonzalez, with kisses while a crowd of hundreds of people, including many were shouting “Viva el Rey!” (“Long Live the King!”) and “Viva Espana!” demonstrated their dedication.

Under the cameras, the former king cautiously climbed onto a tender and, with a sailboat in tow, set off to enjoy the weekend’s regatta sea trials.

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Before returning to Abu Dhabi on Monday evening, Juan Carlos will travel to Madrid for a few hours with his family, including his wife. Queen Sophia and son King Felipe VI. The former king’s two daughters visited him in exile, most recently at Easter. Neither his 60-year-old wife nor his son have seen him since he left the country.

According to the media, Queen Sofia is “still waiting” for her husband to explain his conduct.

SANXENXO, PONTEVEDRA, GALICIA, SPAIN - MAY 20: The Emeritus King on his arrival at the 3rd regatta of the IV Circuit Spain Cup 2022 6m class sailing, on May 20, 2022 in Sanxenxo, Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain.  The 3rd Regatta of the 6m Class of the Spanish Cup of Circuit IV 2022 will take place on May 20, 21 and 22, 2022, organized by the Real Club Nautico de Sanxenxo (RNCS) in the waters of the Ria de Pontevedra by delegation of the Royal Spanish Sailing Federation (RFEV) and with the collaboration of the Association of Owners of the 6m Class of Spain.  (Photo by Alvaro Ballesteros/Europa Press via Getty Images)

SANXENXO, PONTEVEDRA, GALICIA, SPAIN – MAY 20: The Emeritus King on his arrival at the 3rd regatta of the IV Circuit Spain Cup 2022 6m class sailing, on May 20, 2022 in Sanxenxo, Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain. The 3rd Regatta of the 6m Class of the Spanish Cup of Circuit IV 2022 will take place on May 20, 21 and 22, 2022, organized by the Real Club Nautico de Sanxenxo (RNCS) in the waters of the Ria de Pontevedra by delegation of the Royal Spanish Sailing Federation (RFEV) and with the collaboration of the Association of Owners of the 6m Class of Spain. (Photo by Alvaro Ballesteros/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Alvaro Ballesteros/Europa Press via Getty

The planned family visit part of his itinerary was complicated, according to media reports, by the refusal of Spain’s ruling left-wing coalition government to allow the disgraced ex-king to spend the night at the Zarzuela Palace. . Reports claim that it was Prime Minister Pedro Gonzalez who vigorously opposed it.

The return to Spain does not, however, mean the end of Juan Carlos’ legal problems.

RELATED: Spain’s ex-king Juan Carlos is under investigation for alleged corruption six years after his abdication

While this weekend’s trip was meant to “normalize” the King Emeritus’ status, his return trip has been far from normal so far. His excursion is taking place under guidelines he himself declared in an open letter he wrote to his son just days after the criminal investigations were dropped in March; a letter in which he describes himself ready to return to Spain “regularly” to see “his family and friends”.

The palace’s last-minute announcement this week of his imminent arrival, and his decision to spend three days at a yachting gathering before seeing his family, has come under intense media scrutiny. So does the question of who exactly pays for his flight, after arriving on a private charter owned by an Angolan company.

TOPSHOT - Former King of Spain Juan Carlos I greets his "Bribon"  boat, as he attends the Spanish Cup 6M InterRias Trophy regatta, in the Galician town of Sanxenxo, northwest Spain, May 21, 2022. - The former king of Spain returned to the country on May 19, 2022 for his first visit since leaving nearly two years ago following a series of financial scandals.  (Photo by Brais Lorenzo/AFP) (Photo by BRAIS LORENZO/AFP via Getty Images)

TOPSHOT – Spain’s former king Juan Carlos I waves from his boat ‘Bribon’ as he watches the InterRias Spanish Cup 6M Trophy regatta in the northwestern Galician town of Sanxenxo of Spain, May 21, 2022. – The former king of Spain returned to the country on May 19, 2022 for his first visit since leaving nearly two years ago following a series of financial scandals . (Photo by Brais Lorenzo/AFP) (Photo by BRAIS LORENZO/AFP via Getty Images)

BRAIS LORENZO/AFP via Getty

On Thursday, just hours before his arrival, Spain’s Economy Minister Nadia Calviño denounced the trip. “The information we have had in recent years is very worrying,” Calvino told a radio reporter, “for the (monarchical) institution.” No. 2 of the government, she insisted, “I believe that he will undoubtedly have to give explanations”.

On Friday, Mayor Telmo Gonzalez, who first disclosed Juan Carlos’ trip two weeks ago, told reporters the ex-king had decided to return to Sanxenxo – for another regatta – in June.