Europe

Spain's Princess Cristina tried for fraud

  • 11 January 2016
  • From the section Europe
Media captionSpain's Princess Cristina arrives at court in Palma

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

She is charged with being an accomplice in an alleged embezzlement scam involving her husband and 16 other defendants, who all deny the charges.

Princess Cristina, 50, faces eight years in jail if found guilty by a panel of three judges in Majorca.

Her lawyer, a state attorney and an anti-corruption prosecutor all said the case against her should be thrown out.

Princess Cristina arrived at the court in Palma on Monday with her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, who is accused of embezzlement and money laundering.

They made no statement to reporters. A small group of anti-monarchists protested outside.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The princess arrived with her husband at a makeshift courtroom in Palma, Majorca

As the judges read out the charges, the princess sat at the back of a makeshift courtroom at the public administration school in Palma. Her husband sat in the same row but court rules prevented them from sitting together.


A big moment - by Chris Morris, BBC News, Palma

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The princess (back row, first from left) sat some distance from her husband

It all looks so normal.

Three rows of six defendants sitting in court on blue chairs, facing the panel of judges.

But in the third row, at one end, sits Princess Cristina, sixth in line to the Spanish throne.

It's something many people in Spain thought they would never see - the powerful being held to account.

Princess Cristina's lawyers will try to get charges against her dismissed. But in a country where corruption has become a huge political issue, this is a big moment.

Unprecedented trial for Spanish princess

Why Princess Cristina is in court


Mr Urdangarin's supposedly non-profit Noos Institute sports foundation 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.

Noos is alleged to have received more than €6m (£4.4m; $6.5m) of public money, most of it from the Balearic Islands and Valencia regional governments.

If found guilty, Mr Urdangarin could face 19 years and six months in jail.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The princess married Inaki Urdangarin in 1997 - they lost their titles of duke and duchess of Palma last year

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

One of the allegations against the princess is that she made personal use of Aizoon funds for paying for clothes and dance lessons for the couple's children as well as work on the couple's Barcelona mansion.

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.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The judges have to decide whether to allow the case against Princess Cristina to go ahead

As the trial began, the princess's lawyer asked the judges to drop the case against her because it was not supported by public prosecutors.

Anti-corruption prosecutor Pedro Horrach said putting her on trial would amount to discrimination and state attorney Dolores Ripoll said the tax authorities did not believe she had committed a crime.

The princess's defence lawyer argued that the only accusation against the princess had been made privately, by anti-corruption group Manos Limpias (Clean Hands). Lawyers cited the so-called "Botin doctrine", named after a case dropped against a former Spanish bank chief in 2007.

Clean Hands lawyer Virginia Lopez Negrete condemned the doctrine as "anachronistic" and said all citizens were equal before the law.

Last year, King Felipe stripped his sister of the title of Duchess of Palma, but she remains sixth in line to the throne.


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Princess Cristina has so far refused to renounce her right to succession and remains sixth in line to the Spanish throne

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
  • There are 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 more than 16 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

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