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New black eye for Spanish royals? Princess Cristina under criminal investigation (+video)

A Spanish court today announced it will investigate the princess regarding alleged fraud by her husband. The action is only the latest scandal to bring public scrutiny of the Spanish royal family.

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Spain's King Juan Carlos (r.) arrives with his daughter, Princess Cristina (c.) and her husband, Inaki Urdangarín, for an awards show in Barcelona, Spain, in May 2006. On Wednesday, a Spanish court named Cristina as a suspect in a corruption case involving her husband and will be called in for questioning on April 27.

Jasper Juinen/AP/File

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A Spanish court announced Wednesday it will investigate Spanish Princess Cristina, daughter of King Juan Carlos, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation against her husband for alleged embezzlement of public funds – and spurring new questions about the future of the royal family.

The youngest of the king’s daughters, Cristina Federica de Borbón y Grecia, has been called to testify in three weeks in an unprecedented decision that directly ties the royal family to a scandal that is infuriating Spaniards. Princess Cristina is a suspect in the scandal case, although she has not so far been charged with any crime. The prosecution in the case has already appealed the incrimination, a judicial process that precedes an indictment or formal charges.

The royal family said that it was "surprised" at the court's decision, and that it supports the prosecution's appeal.

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Cristina will be investigated for her possible role in the alleged crimes of her husband, Iñaki Urdangarín. Urdangarín, the Duke of Palma de Mallorca and a former Olympic sports figure and professional handball athlete, is under formal judicial investigation related to the embezzlement of more than 6 million euro in public funds, though he has yet to be charged.

Urdangarín allegedly used his ties to the crown and nobility to secure contracts with regional governments to organize sporting events, along with his partner Diego Torres. They are also being investigated over the possible use of their nonprofit organization as a front to siphon money and evade taxes.

The court itself is based in Palma de Mallorca, in Spain's Balearic Islands. Judge Jose Castro wrote in the enabling decision that while it appears Cristina was not involved in daily operations of the scheme, “there are indications that she consented to allow the use of family ties to the King” and “it’s doubtful” that she wasn’t aware of how her husband was using her name.

The evidence against Cristina was provided by Mr. Torres in the form of dozens of emails that directly name her or are even addressed to her. Urdangarín’s attorneys have consistently denied the royal family’s knowledge of his affairs, but have been unable to have the emails discarded.

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The emails suggest Cristina was at least informed of some decisions, though prosecutors disagree with the judge's decision to investigate the princess. They argue that while she was formally part of the board of her husband’s nonprofit, she had no decision-making role.

Family business?

In January, the court set an 8.1 million euro ($10 million) bail for Urdangarín and Torres, and after failing to pay, ordered the repossession of properties owned by Urdangarín and Cristina, including their small palace in Barcelona. The order is under appeal. The personal secretary of the king’s two daughters has also been incriminated in the corruption scheme, and the king’s legal adviser has been subpoenaed to testify, among other high-profile figures.

The royal family has long publicly distanced itself from Urdangarín and promised to support the court investigation, regardless of who is involved. But the embezzlement scandal, especially as the investigation draws closer to the royal family and its entourage, has hit a nerve among Spaniards and undermined trust in the strongest Spanish institution.

For some time now, the future of Spain’s monarchy has become a public debate, not just among the population but increasingly among politicians as well. Until recently, such criticism was unheard of, but political parties now are openly asking Juan Carlos to abdicate in favor of his son, Prince Felipe.

While smaller scandals have fueled the criticism, as has the obviously deteriorating health of the aging monarch, the Urdangarín case and the alleged direct implication to the crown has been significantly more damaging.

One of the most popular leaders of Spain’s left, Gaspar Llamazares, was confrontational. “We’ll see if the Crown collaborates and abides to the equality of all before the law. [The case] is no longer about an outsider,” referring to Urdangarín, “but about the business affairs of the Crown.”

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