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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spanish King Caught in Bear Trap

APPresident Vladimir Putin talking with King Juan Carlos I earlier this year.
When the king of Spain went on a recent hunting trip to Russia, he expected wild bear, but instead, a local official says, he faced off with a drunk, tame, wooly beast named Mitrofan.

King Juan Carlos I now finds himself embroiled in a mini-scandal stemming from an August visit he paid to the Vologda region.

While the king issued a statement Thursday denying that he shot any intoxicated ursines, the tempest appears to be gaining momentum.

At the heart of the scandal is this question: Did local authorities provide the 68-year-old Spanish monarch with a bear that had been plied with honey-laced vodka?

To get to the bottom of these questions, Vologda's governor announced Thursday the formation of a working group to investigate.

The investigation -- and the whole hullabaloo surrounding the Spanish king and the drunk bear -- was prompted by a Tuesday letter sent by Sergei Starostin, a regional official who oversees hunting, to the governor alerting, him to the incident.

"The party sacrificed a good-humored and jolly bear called Mitrofan," Starostin wrote in his letter. After getting Mitrofan intoxicated, Starostin said, the hunting party "pushed him out into the field. Quite naturally, the massive drunken animal became an easy target. His Majesty Juan Carlos killed Mitrofan with one shot."

Starostin fingered deputy governor Alexander Gromov as one of the organizers of the hunt. A regional government spokesman said Gromov was on vacation Thursday and could not be reached for comment. The regional prosecutor's office refused to comment.

"We have our own traditions. Hunting should be real," Starostin said in an interview Thursday. Starostin said he did not believe the king had been aware Mitrofan was drunk at the time of the incident. He noted one of the king's daughters had separately shot a wild -- and sober -- bear on the same trip.

The Vologda stop had followed a visit the king and his family had paid to President Vladimir Putin's Sochi residence. It was not the king's first trip to Vologda: He had gone hunting there in 1992.

"Real hunters would never do this," said Alexander Vaisman of the World Wildlife Fund. Vaisman said he'd heard of such things, "but it was New Russians, not the King of Spain."

He added that he found it hard to believe that any hunting lodge that would include the King of Spain as its guest would stoop so low. "It's like a five-star hotel inviting a prostitute in from the street," he said.