Spanish princess testifies in royal corruption case
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Spain’s Princess Cristina – the younger daughter of King Juan Carlos – was questioned by a judge in court on Saturday in a corruption case involving her husband.
It is the first time that a Spanish royal has been summoned in a criminal proceeding since the monarchy was restored in 1975, after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.
Cristina, who is seventh in line to the throne, faces preliminary charges of tax fraud and money laundering linked to her use of income from a shell company she co-owned with her husband Inaki Urdangarin. The case has deepened public anger at Spain’s ruling class as the country struggles to emerge from economic crisis, following years of stringent austerity measures.
The princess arrived at the closed door hearing in Palma de Mallorca, capital of the Balearic Islands dressed soberly in a white shirt and black jacket. She was given special permission to be driven to the courthouse door for security reasons.
“Her testimony was extensive and exhaustive,” said one of Princess Cristina’s lawyers, Miguel Roca, outside the court. “We are fully confident that today could not be a better day for the princess... We are all equal before the law.”
Manuel Delgado, a lawyer for one of the two civil groups that first brought charges against the princess, told journalists during a break, “Most of her answers have been ‘I don’t know’, ‘I don’t remember’ and ‘I fully trusted my husband’.”
Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball player, is charged with crimes including the embezzlement of 6 million euros of public money at a charitable foundation he ran and where the princess was a board member.
He has been accused of using his royal connections to win generous no-bid contracts from the regional Balearic Islands government to put on sports and marketing events before a 2008 property market crash, when local governments were awash with cash.
Judge Jose Castro is investigating how Urdangarin overcharged and charged for services never provided, and how the proceeds went to a shell company without the appropriate tax being paid. The couple co-owned the shell company and used it for personal expenses including, for example, work on their Barcelona mansion and the princess’s salsa lessons.
Both the princess and Urdangarin – who have not represented the Crown at official events since 2011 – have denied any wrongdoing. Princess Cristina has stuck by her husband, but last year moved with their four children to Switzerland to escape media attention. She now works for a charitable foundation there.
Frustration with royal family
Streets away, hundreds of protesters shouted slogans calling for a republic, equal justice for all and an end to institutional corruption.
“I’m a monarchist, but if they have done wrong they should return what they stole and be exposed just like the rest of us,” said Angel Rodriguez, an 80-year-old pensioner passing by the court.
Widespread hardship and an unemployment rate of 26 percent have fuelled popular resentment of the wealthy and powerful, while data show Spain’s crisis has widened a gulf between rich and poor.
The royal scandal has hastened a decline in the popularity of the once-revered King Juan Carlos after a series of gaffes showed his high-flying lifestyle to be woefully out of step with the rest of the nation.
An opinion poll released last month put the king’s popularity at a record low, with almost two thirds of Spaniards wanting him to abdicate and hand the crown to his son.
“Support for the king plummeted when, in a situation of great economic and social difficulty, he projected an image of frivolity, of having neglected his obligations,” said Ignacio Torres Muro, professor of constitutional law at Madrid’s Complutense University.
Judge Castro brought preliminary charges against Princess Cristina in January in a 227-page ruling. Last year he brought charges of aiding and abetting, only to have them thrown out by a higher court. The investigation, however, began four years ago.
The judge will now have to decide whether to formalise the charges against the princess, drop them, or allow her to plead to lesser charges.
Many Spaniards think she will get off lightly.
“This is a country where there are no consequences for being corrupt. They get a free ride,” said Maria Gomila, an 18-year-old student.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)