News Column

Princess Cristina Corruption Scandal Sends Spanish Royals Into Tizzy

April 4, 2013

Sinikka Tarvainen, dpa

Seventeen years and four children later, the fairy-tale wedding of Spain's Princess Cristina and ex-Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin has turned into a nightmare.

Once popular in Barcelona, the couple now flee the press as they are swept up in a corruption scandal that has shaken the foundations of the monarchy.

"Her Highness named a suspect," was one newspaper headline Thursday, after investigating judge Jose Castro summoned the 47-year-old princess for questioning on April 27.

Cristina and Urdangarin are the first royals to be named criminal suspects in Spain's modern history.

In late 2011, Palma de Majorca judge Jose Castro began investigating the Noos Institute, a charity that Urdangarin headed from 2004-06.

The 45-year-old Duke of Palma de Majorca, and his former business partner Diego Torres, are suspected of embezzling more than 6 million euros (7.8 million dollars) in public funds.

They allegedly used the Noos Institute, which organized sports and tourism events in the Balearic Islands and eastern Valencia, to channel money into their own companies.

Cristina sat on the Noos board and co-owned one of Urdangarin's companies.

Emails given to the court by Torres point to Urdangarin having discussed the running of the Noos Institute with his wife, Castro said in the ruling naming her a suspect.

In one email, for instance, Urdangarin sends Cristina a Noos document that he is planning to send to clients. "Read it and tell me what you think," he writes.

The judge rejected arguments by Urdangarin's defence that the emails were not valid as evidence.

Even if Cristina was not aware of many of the details, her image helped Urdangarin obtain business deals, Castro argues.

Naming her as a suspect does not necessarily mean that she will have to stand trial. The evidence against her could be too weak for that to happen, commentators said.

Castro's bold move has shocked Spain. The Zarzuela royal palace said it was "surprised". Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said the government was enormously worried".

But left-wing parties and many commentators praised Castro for showing that "the law is the same for all," as the daily El Mundo put it.

The palace has already had to endure the shame of the world seeing Urdangarin walk to court for questioning. Now, similar images of Cristina will be splashed in the media, unless an appeal that has been lodged against her being named a suspect succeeds.

The move comes at a time when Spaniards are generally losing trust in their institutions, with even Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy suspected of having pocketed kickbacks.

Analysts, however, say that instead of dealing a final blow to the scandal-hit monarchy, the judicial proceedings against Cristina could save it.

"Anything else would have raised all kinds of suspicions and the intolerable impression that the state of law was being violated" by protecting the princess from being investigated, columnist Soledad Gallego-Diaz wrote in the daily El Pais.

Last year, King Juan Carlos was forced to issue an unprecedented apology for going on a hunting trip to Botswana at the time of an economic crisis.

Several books and the media have reported on the 75-year-old monarch's alleged marital infidelities.

This week, left-wing parties asked the king to explain whether he had paid taxes on an inheritance of 2.3 million euros he allegedly received from his father 20 years ago.

"The Cristina case makes the reputation of the monarchy crumble definitively in my eyes," said Jose, a 51-year-old engineer.

"The king should abdicate in favour of (Crown Prince) Felipe. And Felipe then needs to get tough and put order into the palace. Otherwise, we are headed for a republic."

The Urdangarin scandal has not only sparked calls for the king to abdicate, but also for Cristina to renounce her rights as seventh in line to the throne, and even to get divorced.

But Cristina, the first Spanish princess to have earned a master's degree and who works at a charitable foundation in Barcelona, has always shown an independent streak.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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