April 24, 2014
Spain’s Princess Cristina has day in court
Becomes first royal to face a criminal proceeding since restoration of democracy in 1975
MADRID — Spain’s Princess Cristina was questioned by a judge yesterday in a corruption case that has deepened public anger over graft among the ruling class and discontent with the royal family.
It was the first time that a Spanish royal has been summoned in a criminal proceeding since the monarchy was restored in 1975 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco. Ironically, Princess Cristina was questioned facing a portrait of her father, King Juan Carlos, as is customary in Spain.
With Spain emerging slowly from a deep economic and financial crisis that has left 26 percent unemployed, judges are looking into hundreds of corruption cases left over from a property boom that ended abruptly in 2008.
Princess Cristina, the younger daughter of King Juan Carlos and seventh in line to the throne, is facing preliminary charges of tax fraud and money laundering linked to her use of income from a shell company she co-owned with her husband Iñaki Urdangarin.
Both the princess and Urdangarin — who have not represented the Crown at official events since 2011 — have denied any wrongdoing on their part.
Reporters were not allowed into the closed hearing in the courthouse in Palma de Mallorca, capital of the Balearic Island, but lawyers spoke to the press during breaks and after the session was over.
Manuel Delgado, a lawyer for one of the two civil groups ringing charges against the princess told media outside: “Most of her answers have been “I don’t know,” “I don’t remember” and “I fully trusted my husband.” He went on to say that “99 percent of the answers that the princess gave to the judge were evasive” and that the judges questions “were exhaustive, searching for the truth within what the prosecutor has allowed for.” Delgado noted that the princess seemed “well-prepared” and calm.
Jesús Silva, one of the princess’s lawyers, told journalists she had been “happy” with how the testimony had gone. “She answered absolutely all of the questions she was asked... so she has not been evasive,” he added.
Another lawyer for the princess, Miquel Roca, told the press as he left the court that “the princess has demonstrated that we are all equal before the law. She has answered the questions without any kind of priviledges.”
A few streets away, hundreds of protesters shouted slogans calling for a republic, equal justice for all and an end to institutional corruption.
“I’m a monarchist, but if they have done wrong they should return what they stole and be exposed just like the rest of us,” said Angel Rodríguez, an 80-year-old pensioner passing by the court.
Protesters in favour of a republic shouted “Justice!” and “Head of States through a vote, not by birthright.”
The line of questioning
Judge José Castro is investigating accusations that Urdangarin overcharged and charged for services never provided, and that the proceeds went to a shell company without the appropriate tax being paid. Judge Castro has also accused Princess Cristina of money-laundering and tax evasion as she owned half of Aizoon, a company used to divert public finds to the Nóos Institute. Convictions on these charges usually carry prison sentences of six and five years, respecitively.
The couple co-owned Aizoon and used it for personal expenses including work on their Barcelona mansion, according to court filings and documents.
Urdangarin, who is a former Olympic handball player, is accused of using his royal connections to win generous no-bid contracts from the regional Balearic Islands government to put on sports and marketing events before a 2008 property market crash, when local governments were awash with cash. Between 2004 and 2007, the Nóos Institute was awarded contracts worth more than six million euros from the Balearic Islands and Valencia governments, which were held by Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party.
Princess Cristina denied she had any involvement with the Nóos Institute and claimed that she did not have any role with the running of the Aizoon business.
Urdangarin is charged with crimes including the embezzlement of 6 million euros ($8.17 million) of public money at a charitable foundation he ran where the princess was a board member.
Judge Castro showed Princess Cristina a series of receipts issued by Aizoon, to which she responded “I don’t know, I didn’t do the accounting for Aizoon,” she also added that she “signed everything that her husband asked of her beause I trusted him.” She also said she trusted him when asked why the couple founded Aizoon, citing the love between a married couple as the basis for her trust.
Sources reported that one of the most tense moments occurred when the judge showed the princess a receipt issued by Aizoon for a one euro parking ticket, asking “What were you thinking, that it would go unnoticed?”
Among other details, it was also revealed that Princess Cristina denied that she ever knew that Aizoon had employees that had been hired under the table.
The prosecutor, Pedro Horrach, submitted to the court a brief rejecting the accusation against the Princess and accused the judge of “conspiring” against the king’s daughter using a theory based on an alleged manipulation of tax records.
Judge Castro, who has sparred with the prosecutor concerning this case, was cheered by crowds as he left the courthouse after asking approximately 400 questions of the princess.
Princess spared blushes
The princess, dressed soberly in a white shirt, black jacket and trousers, was given special permission to be driven to the courthouse door for security reasons.
That meant she did not have to walk down a long ramp under the glare of hundreds of cameras, unlike her husband when he testified in the case in 2012. Akin to a “perp walk”, the having those accused face a paseíllo is common practice for those accused of crimes in Spain, particulaly when they concern a scandal.
The security arrangements underlined the perception among many Spaniards that the royal family has been given favourable judicial treatment. The judge also ruled that the hearing could not be filmed and only an audio recording was made of the questioning.
King under pressure
Widespread hardship and high unemployment have fuelled popular resentment of the wealthy and powerful, and data show that Spain’s crisis has widened a gulf between rich and poor. The scandal has hastened a decline in the popularity of the once-revered King Juan Carlos, who has already been embarrassed by a series of gaffes — including his decision to go on a lavish elephant hunting trip at a time of particularly harsh cuts.
An opinion poll released last month put the king’s popularity at a record low, with almost two thirds of Spaniards wanting him to abdicate and hand the crown to his son. “Support for the king plummeted when, in a situation of great economic and social difficulty, he projected an image of frivolity, of having neglected his obligations,” said Ignacio Torres Muro, professor of constitutional law at Madrid’s Complutense University.
After yesterday’s hearing, Castro could formalize the charges and move to trial, or he could drop them or allow the princess to plead to lesser charges.
Castro brought the preliminary charges, based on the accusations from the civil groups, against the princess in January in a 227-page ruling. Last year he brought charges of aiding and abetting, only to have them thrown out by a higher court. The investigation began four years ago.
The princess has stuck by her husband, but last year moved with their four children to Switzerland to escape media attention.
Herald with Reuters, Télam