Former King Juan Carlos Returns to Spain for the First Time in 2 Years amid Controversy After Exile

·4 min read
TOPSHOT - Spain's former King Juan Carlos I waves from his "Bribon" boat, as he attends the regatta of the InterRias trophy of 6M Spanish Cup, in the Galician town of Sanxenxo, northwestern Spain, on May 21, 2022. - Spain's former king returned to the country on May 19, 2022 for his first visit since he left nearly two years ago following a string 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 "Bribon" boat, as he attends the regatta of the InterRias trophy of 6M Spanish Cup, in the Galician town of Sanxenxo, northwestern Spain, on May 21, 2022. - Spain's former king returned to the country on May 19, 2022 for his first visit since he left nearly two years ago following a string 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 Thursday to a mix of cheers and potential controversy.

Spain's ex-king, 84, who fled Spain under a financial cloud two years ago, arrived by private flight for a weekend visit at Vigo Airfield on Spain's northwest Galician coast.

The purpose and itinerary of his four-day return, only announced officially the day prior, and essentially motivated by the former king's desire to participate in a sailing regatta — onboard a ship called 'The Rascal' — have caused considerable waves and government embarrassment.

Dressed in a blue blazer and walking with a cane, Juan Carlos was met and embraced by his daughter, Princess Elena, at the airport (who curtsied before him) alongside a crush of journalists. While the ex-king did not speak publicly to reporters, Spanish newspaper El Pais reports his weekend host, boat owner Pedro Campos, as saying the former king was "very excited" about his return.

RELATED: Former King Juan Carlos to Return to Spain After Two-Year Exile

"He is in high spirits, very enthusiastic about returning to Spain. That is the main message he has conveyed to me," Campos reportedly said, adding that Juan Carlos was "perfectly aware" his return had generated "a lot of expectations."

Spain's former King Juan Carlos I sits in a car after landing by a private jet at the Peinador airport in Vigo, Pontevedra, on May 19, 2022, before heading to the northwestern resort of Sanxenxo to attend a three-day regatta. - After nearly two years in exile in the United Arab Emirates following a string of financial scandals, Spain's former king makes his first trip home on May 19, 2022, on a brief visit that has sparked widespread 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 by a private jet at the Peinador airport in Vigo, Pontevedra, on May 19, 2022, before heading to the northwestern resort of Sanxenxo to attend a three-day regatta. - After nearly two years in exile in the United Arab Emirates following a string of financial scandals, Spain's former king makes his first trip home on May 19, 2022, on a brief visit that has sparked widespread 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 emerged by motorcade from Campos' luxury compound in coastal Sanxenxo to be greeted by the city's Mayor Telmo Martin Gonzalez with kisses while an assembled crowd of hundreds, many crying 'Viva el Rey!' ('Long Live the King!') and 'Viva Espana!' demonstrated their devotion.

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

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

According to media reports, Queen Sofia "still expects" her husband to explain his conduct.

SANXENXO, PONTEVEDRA, GALICIA, SPAIN - MAY 20: The King Emeritus on his arrival at the 3rd Regatta of the IV Circuit Spain Cup 2022 6m class sailing, on 20 May, 2022 in Sanxenxo, Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain. The 3rd Regatta of the IV Circuit Spanish Cup 2022 6m class, will be held on 20, 21 and 22 May 2022, being 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 King Emeritus on his arrival at the 3rd Regatta of the IV Circuit Spain Cup 2022 6m class sailing, on 20 May, 2022 in Sanxenxo, Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain. The 3rd Regatta of the IV Circuit Spanish Cup 2022 6m class, will be held on 20, 21 and 22 May 2022, being 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 portion of his itinerary has been complicated, according to media reports, by Spain's ruling Left coalition government's refusal to grant permission for the disgraced ex-king to spend the night at the Zarzuela Palace. Reports claim it was Prime Minister Pedro Gonzalez who vigorously objected.

The return to Spain does not mean the end of Juan Carlos' legal problems by any means, however.

RELATED: Spain's Ex-King Juan Carlos Investigated for Alleged Corruption Six Years After His Abdication

While this weekend's voyage was intended to "normalize" the king emeritus' status, his trip home has been far from normal so far. His excursion is being made under guidelines he declared himself in an open letter he wrote his son only days after the criminal investigations were dropped in March; a letter in which he described himself willing to return to Spain "regularly" to see "his family and friends".

This week's last-minute announcement by the palace of his imminent arrival and decision to spend three days at a yachting rally before seeing his family, has come under intense media scrutiny. As has the question of who exactly is paying for his flight, after he arrived on a private charter owned by an Angolan company.

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

BRAIS LORENZO/AFP via Getty

On Thursday, only hours before his arrival, Spain's Economic Minister Nadia Calviño denounced the trip. "The information we have had in recent years is very worrying," Calvino told a radio interviewer, "for the (monarchical) institution." No. 2 in the government, she insisted, "I believe that he will have to give explanations without a doubt."

On Friday, Mayor Telmo Gonzalez, who first leaked word of Juan Carlos' trip two weeks ago, told reporters that the ex-king has decided to come back to Sanxenxo — for another regatta — in June.

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