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Spain’s Princess Cristina goes on trial for tax fraud

Madrid: Spain’s Princess Cristina, the sister of King Felipe VI, and her husband will go on trial Monday for corruption in a high stakes case likely to further damage the monarchy’s image.

The highly anticipated trial of the royal couple and 16 other accused will run until June at a court in Palma, on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, where the Spanish royal family has a seaside holiday home.

Cristina, 50, will be the first direct member of the royal family facing criminal charges since the monarchy was reinstated following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.

The case is centred on the shady business deals of the Noos Institute, a charitable organisation based in Palma which her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, chaired from 2004 to 2006.

As a result of their indictment, last year, King Felipe VI, who took over from his father Juan Carlos in June 2014, stripped Cristina and her husband of their title as Duke and Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, in a bid to undo damage to the monarchy’s image ahead of the trial.

Juan Carlos had given the couple the title when they married in 1997 in a lavish ceremony at the height of the popularity of the Spanish royals. “Felipe VI cannot allow there to be the slightest doubt over the rigour of his sister’s trial,” historian Pilar Urbano, who has written extensively about the royal family, told AFP.

The trial must be “exemplary, the opposite would hurt him,” she added. Urdangarin, 47, and his former business partner Diego Torres are suspected of embezzling 6.2 million euros (USD 6.7 million) in public funds paid by two regional governments to the Noos Institute to stage sports and other events.

He is accused of using his royal connections to secure inflated contracts without competing bids and siphoning off some of the money into Aizoon, a firm he jointly ran with his wife Cristina to fund a lavish lifestyle. Once dubbed the “ideal” son-in-law by Spain’s gossip press, Urdangarin has also been charged with influence peddling, document falsification, money laundering and tax fraud.

Cristina, a mother-of-four with a master’s degree from New York University, faces the lesser charge of tax evasion. The examining magistrate in the case tried for years to prove her active involvement in her husband’s business dealings.

But he ran into the firm opposition of public prosecutors who managed to get her cleared of accusations of money laundering. The case was triggered by a complaint from anti-graft campaigners “Manos Limpias” or “Clean Hands”. Public prosecutors and the tax office both declined to press charges against her.