Europe

Spain's Princess Cristina prepares for historic trial

Princess Cristina of Spain (July 2014) Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The princess has so far refused to renounce her right to succession and remains sixth in line to the Spanish throne

On Monday Spain's Princess Cristina will become the first member of the country's royal family to be put on trial.

King Felipe's sister faces tax fraud charges as part of an alleged embezzlement scam involving her husband and 16 other defendants, who all deny the charges.

In the courtroom in Palma, Majorca, the princess will be accused of being an accomplice to tax fraud, along with her husband Inaki Urdangarin. His supposedly non-profit company was allegedly used as a vehicle to win falsely inflated contracts from regional government bodies, before channelling the money to personal accounts via tax havens.

The amount of public funds paid to Urdangarin's Noos Institute has been calculated at €5.6m (£4.1m; $6.07m).

Princess Cristina, 50, was a board member at the charitable Noos sports foundation and, with Mr Urdangarin, co-owned a real estate company called Aizoon, which prosecutors say was used to launder embezzled funds.


Image copyright AP
Image caption This could be the view that Princess Cristina faces on Monday

The charges

  • Princess Cristina is charged with being an accomplice to tax fraud, relating to the financial years 2007 and 2008. The private prosecution accusing her wants a jail sentence of eight years
  • Inaki Urdangarin is accused of using the Noos Institute and associated companies to embezzle public funds amounting to €5.6m and is also accused of fraud, influence peddling and money laundering, among other offences. The public prosecutor wants a jail sentence of 19.5 years for the king's brother-in-law
  • 16 other defendants in the case, including Diego Torres, Mr Urdangarin's former partner at Noos, and Jaume Matas, a former government minister and former chief of the Balearic Islands regional government
  • Mr Torres could face up to 16.5 years in jail on similar charges to Mr Urdangarin, while Mr Matas could face 11 years, having already served a nine-month term for corruption

In full: Why Princess Cristina is in court


The case was launched in 2010 by a judge investigating corruption among Balearic Islands officials. It has become highly symbolic of perceived corruption among Spain's elites, including the royal family.

After the premises of the Noos Institute were raided by police in late 2011, the royal household moved quickly to isolate Mr Urdangarin, banning him from public appearances.

But the monarchy's popularity continued to suffer after then-King Juan Carlos was revealed to have broken his hip on a secret elephant-hunting trip to Botswana the following April.

Juan Carlos abdicated in June 2014.

His son King Felipe VI has sought to distance the crown from any further fallout from the corruption case, stripping Cristina of her title of Duchess of Palma, after it was confirmed last year that she would have to stand trial.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The princess (right) married Inaki Urdangarin (left) in 1997 - they lost their titles of duke and duchess of Palma last year
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption On Monday Princess Cristina will become the first member of the country's royal family to be put on trial
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The princess and her family have been in the media spotlight since the fraud charges were filed
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The case has helped fuel a backlash against Spain's royals - the graffiti reads: "More Bourbons jailed, fewer political prisoners"

Princess Cristina, however, has so far refused to renounce her right to succession and remains sixth in line to the Spanish throne.

Spending Christmas with Mr Urdangarin and their four children in Geneva, where the couple moved in 2013, the princess is reported to be upset at her brother's cold treatment.

"It is very hard to be abandoned by your family," she was quoted as saying in the online publication El Espanol by the journalist Ana Romero, a respected royal observer whose book about King Juan Carlos's abdication, Final de Partida (End of the Game), has become a bestseller in Spain.

But a judicial process that has already seen many twists and turns may still provide one more which could prevent the princess from being judged.

Unlike Mr Urdangarin, Cristina is accused only by a private prosecution brought by an obscure right-wing trade union.

Public prosecutors argued that the 50-year-old princess was not aware she was helping her husband to launder money and avoid paying tax. But the investigating judge agreed with the union Manos Limpias (Clean Hands) that she should face trial on two counts of tax fraud relating to 2007 and 2008.

The union is asking for the royal to be jailed for an improbable eight years.

However, the princess's defence team will ask the trial judges on Monday that their client be acquitted, under a legal principle which allows a defendant to walk free if they are only accused by private prosecutors and not the state.

The princess's lawyer, Miquel Roca, said this week he was "totally confident" that Princess Cristina would not have to go through with the trial.

Monday will see all of the 18 accused enter court, but the session will be given over to technical issues, with testimony and cross-examinations expected to start in February.

It has emerged that the princess will be seated at one end of the third and final row of accused, right next to the area reserved for the media.

She was already the object of a media frenzy when having to attend a Majorca courthouse to testify before the investigating judge in 2014.

The courtroom, actually a converted classroom in a civil service academy, will also have space for 36 members of the public. The trial is due to end on 30 June.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Princess Cristina of Spain and Inaki Urdangarin strongly deny the charges against them

Princess Cristina and Inaki Urdangarin

  • Cristina de Borbon was born on 13 June 1965, the second of the three children of Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain
  • She has worked throughout her adult life for charitable organisations, from Unesco to her current employer, La Caixa Foundation
  • In 1997 the princess married Inaki Urdangarin, 47, a Basque who played handball professionally for FC Barcelona and represented Spain at three Olympic Games (1992, 1996, 2000), winning two bronze medals
  • King Juan Carlos conferred on the couple the titles duke and duchess of Palma, Majorca in 1997 - an honour stripped away by King Felipe VI last year
  • In 2003 Mr Urdangarin joined his former business school teacher Diego Torres at the Noos Institute in Barcelona. Over a three-year period, with Princess Cristina as a board member, the pair won a series of sports and leisure event contracts with regional governments in the Balearic Islands, Valencia and Madrid
  • In 2011 Mr Urdangarin became an official suspect in an investigation into alleged fraud and embezzlement at the Noos Institute
  • In 2013 Princess Cristina was named in the case - she was obliged to testify as a suspect in 2014
  • In December 2014 the royal couple were charged

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