By Graham Keeley

BARCELONA - Nearly two-thirds of Spaniards believe former King Juan Carlos, who left the country this week amid a financial scandal, should not have gone abroad, according to an opinion poll published on Sunday.

Juan Carlos, who abdicated in 2014 in favour of his son Felipe, abruptly announced his decision to leave on Monday but there has been no official confirmation of where he went, setting off an international guessing game.

The poll by SigmaDos for the conservative newspaper El Mundo found 63.3% of those questioned felt it was a bad idea for the 82-year-old ex-monarch to have left, while 27.2% agreed with his departure.

Some 80.3% said they thought Juan Carlos should face any potential legal proceedings. The poll, carried out between Aug. 4-6 after he left, found 12.4% said he had nothing to answer for and 7.3% did not voice an opinion.

In June, Spain's Supreme Court opened a preliminary investigation into Juan Carlos' involvement in a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia, after Switzerland's La Tribune de Geneve newspaper reported he had received $100 million from the late Saudi king. Switzerland has also opened an investigation.

The former monarch is not formally under investigation and has repeatedly declined to comment on the allegations.

Juan Carlos's lawyer said on Monday his client was at the Spanish prosecutor's disposal despite his decision to leave.

ROLE IN TRANSITION

Despite the disapproval, reflecting Juan Carlos' sinking popularity in recent years, some 69.2% of those questioned in Sunday's poll said he played an important role in the transition from dictatorship to democracy after the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, while 24.4% said he played "little or no" role.

The pro-monarchist newspaper ABC reported on Friday that Juan Carlos had travelled by private plane from Spain to the United Arab Emirates on Monday.

Other media have said he is in the Dominican Republic or in Portugal. Officials there have said they have no knowledge of him arriving.

A Spanish government spokeswoman declined on Sunday to comment on his whereabouts. His lawyer and the royal palace have all this week declined to say where Juan Carlos is.

News website Niusdiario.es posted a photograph https://www.niusdiario.es/nacional/casa-real/exclusiva-nius-foto-llegada-rey-emerito-juan-carlos-aeropuerto-abu-dabi-emiratos-arabes-unidos_18_2990670271.html on Saturday that it said showed him walking down the steps of a plane at an airport in Abu Dhabi. If confirmed, it would be the first image published of the ex-king since his departure.

The blurred shot appears to show Juan Carlos wearing a white face mask and talking to an official, but there were no signs or other details in the frame to confirm the location or date. Niusdiario.es gave no details on who took the picture.

United Arab Emirates officials and the Emirates Palace Hotel did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley; Additional reporting by Nafisa Eltahir in Dubai; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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