Princess Cristina of Spain, the sister of King Felipe VI and sixth in line to the Spanish throne, went on trial Monday, along with her husband, for tax-evasion and other corruption charges, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.
Cristina, 50, is accused of conspiring with her husband, businessman Inaki Urdangarin, of embezzling €5.6 million (a little over $6 million) through his various companies. Authorities say that Urdangarin, through his non-profit consultancy group, Noos, secured millions of Euros in artificially-inflated government contracts and then funneled the money into various holding companies, which laundered the money. Urdangarin and Cristina then allegedly used that money to fund a lavish lifestyle.
Princess Cristina was a board member at Noos when the alleged embezzlement, tax fraud, and money laundering took place.
A four-year investigation by the Spanish government revealed that Urdangarin, Cristina, and other defendants conspired in a scheme to receive kickbacks from local officials when building a sports stadium in the Spanish city of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands.
Cristina herself is facing eight years in prison for her role in the schemes, according to DB Techno, whereas other people connected with the case are facing much more serious penalties. Urdangarin is facing 19 years and six months. Sixteen other defendants in the case, including at least one Spanish politician, Jaume Matas, are facing various charges that could land them in prison for up to 11 years.
Some technicalities in the Spanish legal system may wind up setting Princess Cristina free. The case was brought to the attention of the Spanish government through a private non-profit agency called Manos Limpios (“Clean hands”). In Spanish law, a case brought by a private party not affected by the case can be dropped. In fact, government prosecutors had objected to having the princess stand trial, but a judge ordered the case to proceed.
Cristina getting off on a technicality is unlikely, says retired judge Elpidio Silva. He also says that if she were exonerated, it would look bad for King Felipe, who would be perceived as using his influence to get his sister out of trouble.
“People are expecting convictions. The best-case, and the most likely, scenario is one with short-term convictions so that the princess doesn’t have to go to jail. The damage against the monarchy is already done, now it’s all about seeing how this can be minimized.”
Cristina’s legal troubles come at a time when King Felipe is trying desperately to revive the royal family’s image among the Spanish people. The monarchy has been at historic lows in popularity since 2014, when King Juan Carlos, Felipe, and Cristina’s father abdicated the throne. Juan Carlos had been the subject of national scorn and ridicule since 2012, when he fell and broke his hip while elephant hunting in Africa. At the time, Spain was in the depths of a recession that continues to this day. Juan Carlos’ adventures in Africa were seen as emblematic of the excesses of the Royal Family.
Cristina’s trial has drawn unprecedented national interest in Spain. Nearly 500 reporters and photographers from Spanish and international media outlets have been invited to Mallorca to cover the trial. So many reporters have converged on the scene that the local courthouse is too small to accommodate them, and a makeshift building has been erected specifically for the trial.
Princess Cristina is not expected to speak in her defense until February, when she’ll be called to take the witness stand.
[Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images]