Spain's Princess Cristina faces historic tax fraud trial

Spain's Princess Cristina faces historic tax fraud trial

Visits to the palm-dotted Mediterranean island of Mallorca for Spain’s Princess Cristina used to mean luxurious stays at the seaside Marivent Palace – but the sister of King Felipe VI won’t get anywhere near the royal family’s official summer residence in a trip this week.

Instead, the 50-year-old princess and her husband are set to face anti-monarchy protesters and hordes of media on Monday as they enter a makeshift courtroom and she makes history in front of millions of Spanish TV viewers as the first royal family member to face criminal charges since the monarchy was restored in 1975.

Following the tax fraud trial expected to last six months, the princess could face up to eight years in prison if a three-member panel of judges agrees the couple abused a real estate consulting firm described in court papers as a “front company” to bankroll a lavish lifestyle, including parties at their modernist Barcelona mansion, salsa dancing classes and holidays at expensive hotels.

Cristina and her husband, Olympic handball medallist turned businessman Inaki Urdangarin, will sit in the dock alongside 16 others in the case centring on allegations that Urdangarin used his Duke of Palma title to embezzle about six million euros in public contracts through the Noos Institute.

It was the non-profit foundation he set up with a business partner to broker seminars and sports events as a tourism lure.

The alleged scheming involved some events that never happened or were billed at unusually high rates at the height of Spain’s economic boom before the onset of the financial crisis in 2008.

Some money went to the Aizoon real estate company that paid for personal expenses for the couple – a perk they should have declared as an income to tax authorities but allegedly didn’t.

The suspects stand accused of being “greedy in a time when it wasn’t seen as being that bad,” said Ana Romero, the royalty reporter for the El Espanol digital publication.

“There was a lot of money around, and it’s a country where connections are very important.”

There are so many defendants and lawyers, plus reporters covering the case, that judicial officials were forced to move the trial from a courthouse to a sprawling building complex on the outskirts of Palma de Mallorca normally used to hold mass training courses for public servants.

The case is being heard in the regional capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands because many of Urdangarin’s deals were for the islands.

The princess and her husband are not expected to utter a word during the first few days of the trial as judges read out the 89 alleged crimes committed by the suspects, and lawyers including Cristina’s make arguments aimed at having their clients removed from the case.

She denied knowledge of her husband’s activities during a 2014 closed door court appearance and a prosecutor recommended she should be fined but a judge decided Cristina could be charged with tax fraud in 2007 and 2008 because Spanish law allows groups to file charges when state prosecutors don’t.

Her case was driven forward by the anti-corruption group Manos Limpias (Clean Hands).

Cristina’s brother Felipe has never mentioned his sister’s troubles directly but has pledged to restore public trust in Spain’s monarchy.

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