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9 Feb, 2014 12:41

Princess Cristina of Spain grilled over major corruption allegations

Princess Cristina of Spain grilled over major corruption allegations

Spanish King Juan Carlos’s daughter, Princess Cristina, has been questioned in a corruption case involving tax fraud and a shell company. She faces a storm of criticism from the country as public anger over graft among the ruling elite boils over.

The Princess, who is seventh in line to the Spanish throne, is facing preliminary charges of tax fraud and money laundering in connection with a shell company she and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, ran. He is the main suspect in the case.

Princess Cristina, the King’s younger daughter, is the first direct member of Spain’s post-Franco monarchy to be questioned in court.

The investigation has been dragging on for four years now. Last year, the princess and Urdangarin came under the spotlight for aiding and abetting, but a higher court dismissed the case entirely, Reuters explains.

The law has been unsuccessful at making any of the past allegations stick, but on Saturday, at a Palma de Mallorca courthouse in the Balearic Islands, Judge Jose Castro brought about the culmination of a series of accusations from civil rights groups in the form of a 227-page ruling.

Urdangarin, who ran the shell company – a charitable foundation, is facing charges of embezzling 6 million euros ($8.17 million) of public funds through the company, whose board his wife was a member of.

Before the market crash of 2008, Urdangarin allegedly used his ties to the royal family to secure exclusive contracts with the government of the Balearic Islands, for the purpose of putting on sports and marketing events (Urdangarin is a former handball player). But the wealth of local governments did not last.

Spain's Princess Cristina, daughter of King Juan Carlos, leaves a courthouse after testifying in front of judge Jose Castro over tax fraud and money-laundering charges in Palma de Mallorca February 8, 2014 (Reuters / Albert Gea)

The accusations also have to do with overcharging clients and making off with their money without providing any services. That money would then be laundered through the foundation and tax would have been avoided, the prosecutors believe.

The company was exclusively used for personal expenses, including work on the couple’s mansion in Barcelona, according to official court documents.

Both have denied any wrongdoing, but the case has created conflicting opinions among those present at the closed hearing. One of the princess’s lawyers, Miguel Roca, believes that “her testimony was extensive and exhaustive,” and is “fully confident that [Saturday] could not be a better day for the princess… We are all equal before the law.”

A different picture is being painted by the lawyer of the two civil groups that first brought the charges against the princess. While the court was in recess, Manuel Delgado told journalists that “most of her answers have been ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I don’t remember’ and ‘I fully trust my husband.’ "

Although royal involvement in massive corruption sounds bad enough, this particular example has served to underline Spain’s simmering anger at the royals and the elites, who live a lavish and conspicuous lifestyles excluded from the realities of normal life.

Protesters and members of the Andalusian Union of Workers (SAT) place a banner reading "Corruption at the port" on the wall of a monument at Malaga's port during a demonstration against Spain's unemployment and the corruption in Malaga, southern Spain (Reuters / Jon Nazca)

As a huge crowd of protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Mallorca in hopes of catching a glimpse of Princess Cristina, they instead saw a car. She was driven up to the building for security reasons, unlike her husband, who had to face the music when he was questioned in 2012.

The Spanish monarchy aren’t doing too well as it is. Flashy lifestyles and extravagant government projects have recently resulted in riots across the country, but this case is escalating things further.

Polls show that the King’s popularity has hit rock bottom, with almost two thirds of the country believing Juan Carlos should hand over the crown to his son.

As Ignacio Torres Muro, professor of constitutional law at the Complutense University in Madrid, told Reuters: "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."

One 80-year-old bystander confessed that he is a “monarchist, but if [the royals] have done wrong they should return what they stole and be exposed just like the rest of us."

With Saturday’s proceedings completed, the charges can now be formalized by Castro, the judge. The options are that the case goes to trial, or a deal could be made for her to plead guilty on lesser charges; alternatively, the case could be dismissed altogether.