By William J. Furney
The old king of Spain has done a runner, and no one knows where he is. In Thailand, protests are erupting over a law that carries stiff jail terms for insulting the monarchy. And the House of Saud has been thrown into fresh chaos over claims the de facto monarch ordered a second overseas hit job.
Rumours are swirling like a vortex on speed about the whereabouts of Juan Carlos, who this week fled his native Spain, leaving his wife, the original and popular queen, behind as he disappeared to an undisclosed location in an unknown country. And under a massive cloud of suspicion due to a corruption investigation into the 82-year-old at home and in Switzerland concerning the awarding of a high-speed rail network linking Saudi Arabia’s pilgrimage sites of Mecca and Medina to a dozen Spanish firms (non-Muslims are, absurdly, not allowed into either place of worship).
Juan Carlos is alleged to have received €64.8 from the Saudis for his part in the deal. His son has since made the unusual decision — and public declaration — that he will not accept an inheritance from his father. Juan Carlos was subsequently stripped of his annual €200,000 state allowance.
The one-time king — previously under fire for hunting elephants in Africa at a time when Spain was in a massive financial downturn and for extra-marital affairs — was driven across the border this week to Portugal, reports said, and had fled onwards to the Dominican Republic, where he was holed up at the estate of a sugar baron friend. Later in the week, he was reported to be in Abu Dhabi, but no one in authority was confirming or denying anything, although a photo emerged of him on Sunday apparently showing Juan Carlos clambering down the steps of a private plane in the Middle Eastern nation (pictured above).
In a letter published on the royal family’s website, the king emeritus said he did not want his personal circumstances to distract from the work of his son, King Felipe, for whom he abdicated in 2014 after 39 years on the throne. The website has a Transparency section, but, in an indelible insult to the citizens of Spain, the House of Borbón was not divulging where the man who led Spain from Franco’s dictatorship into a democracy was.
The former king — who some say is now the humiliating spectacle of a fugitive monarch, who lost his immunity when he abdicated — has said he will be available to answer prosecutors’ questions, however. But if he wanted “tranquility” for his son’s reign, as he wrote in his letter, the last thing he would have done was absconded and generated headlines around the world that further highlighted his alleged transgressions.
There have been growing voices and demonstrations calling for Spain to become a republic, and this week, separatist-minded Catalonia voted to condemn the Spanish monarchy after Juan Carlos shocked the nation with his move. “Neither Spaniards nor Catalans deserve such a loud and ridiculous scandal on an international scale,” Catalonia President Quim Torra said in the regional parliament.
On the other side of the world, if you’re not careful about what you say about the Thai monarchy, you can be flung in jail for up to 15 years — a fate that has been meted out to more than 100 people since the military coup in 2014.
Some Thai people have had enough of this nonsense. Like religion, if it can’t stand up to scrutiny, it’s probably not worth believing in. You’re in your vastly exalted position to serve the people — not trample on them when they raise their voices over unfair rules.
Protesters are asking King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 68 and reportedly worth some $43 billion, making him the richest monarch in the world, to reform the institution in line with democratic norms. Only 200 of them poured onto the streets of Bangkok on Monday, so in a country of 69.4 million, their demands are likely to go unheard, for now.
In Saudi Arabia, portly MBS, who effectively runs the country as ailing King Salman is practically unable to, is facing another crisis. Millennial and absolute ruler Mohammed bin Salman, 34, previously encountered severe global criticism after the slaying in October 2018 of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul that’s he’s alleged to have ordered but denies. An equally alleged hit job was ordered weeks later, on a former Saudi spy who had taken up residence in Canada, but the thugs were stopped by border officials after they became suspicious of the men, a lawsuit against MBS and filed in the US claims.
The most famous royal of them all is nearing 100 and still going strong, and this week decamped from one of two London palaces to one in an area of Scotland that’s now under coronavirus lockdown. At a time when housing and homelessness are at record levels in the United Kingdom, having a queen with multiple castles all over the country is obscene — as is the birthright of her family to “rule”, even if it is just to rubber-stamp legislation.
For the privilege of having an undemocratic institution in their land, the British people paid out £67 million in 2018-2019, an extraordinary sum for an already enormously wealthy family who do little or nothing other than take long and indulgent holidays. One among them — the queen’s allegedly favorite son, Prince Andrew — has cast the entire family into disrepute with his ties to the late American pedophile Jeffery Epstein.
Too much money, two much freedom from not having to work, too much fawning respect from a brainwashed public who think royals are better than them, when the reality is often just the reverse.
Two of the British royals are in self-imposed exile in Los Angeles, although one is from the west coast American city, amid accounts she, actress Meghan Markel, couldn’t stand the cold, heartless and frumpy institution so beloved of middle-class England.
The upper legislative chamber in Britain, the House of Lords, is equally unelected, its members formed of pals of pols who did them favours and now have their reward. It’s extraordinary.
Pressure group Republic, which is campaigning for an end to unelected officials like members of the royal family, and wants an elected head of state, tweeted last week, as it called for elected lords: “If you said to an Australian that the PM should be able to appoint to the Senate former MPs, the PM’s own brother and people who have failed to get elected, they’d laugh in your face. Why do we put up with this nonsense?”
Crowning moments they are not.
- Title image courtesy of NIUS.