Charges against Spanish princess mar monarchy in court of public opinion (+video)
Corruption charges against King Juan Carlos's daughter look likely to further damage an institution already increasingly unpopular with the Spanish public.
A Spanish court today charged Spanish Princess Cristina, the youngest daughter of King Juan Carlos, with tax fraud and money laundering for her suspected role in her husband’s alleged scheme to embezzle millions of euros in public funds.
Cristina’s emergence as a formal suspect in the investigation – setting her up to appear in court as the first direct relative of a Spanish monarch to be formally charged with wrongdoing – looks certain to further undermine public support for the embattled Spanish royalty, which has been enmeshed in months of corruption scandals tarring Spain's rich and powerful.
In a 227-page ruling disclosed today, Judge José Castro exposed an arsenal of new information to charge the princess in relation to the alleged laundering of more than 6 million euro in public funds that her husband, former Olympic handball player Iñaki Urdanganrín, is charged with embezzling along with a business partner.
This is the second time the princess has faced a court investigation, after an appeals court overruled her court summons issued by Judge Castro last May and dismissed the preliminary inquiry initiated a month earlier due to lack of evidence. Cristina is scheduled to testify Mar. 8, although the case against her could be once again dismissed or delayed.
Regardless, it is yet another blow to the royal family, which has been shedding popularity for decades but recently suffered an unprecedented drop in public appeal amidst corruption-related scandals and the declining health of King Juan Carlos. A majority of Spaniards now call for Juan Carlos’s abdication.
A poll published by El Mundo newspaper Sunday showed a precipitous drop in public support – by 9 percentage points in the past 12 months – for the king, who is credited for saving Spain’s fledgling democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco.
Around 62 percent of Spaniards now support his abdication in favor of Prince Felipe, 17 points more than a year ago. Meanwhile support for monarchy as an institution lost 5 percentage points and now stands under 50 percent, according to El Mundo.
The noticeably weak Juan Carlos gave no indication of planning to abdicate during his traditional Christmas Eve address to the nation, which has the lowest television audience in history. Even his speech has become harder to understand, and Spaniards openly wonder whether he should step down.
National media also widely highlighted the king’s apparent frailty in his first personal appearance over the weekend after a series of health-related absences last year.
But the king and royal family's popularity had already been eaten away by the ongoing case surrounding Mr. Urdangarín, who first fell under legal scrutiny three years ago for allegedly using his royal ties to secure contracts with regional governments in organizing sporting events.
Prosecutors claim that Urdangarín and his partner Diego Torres evaded taxes and embezzled funds by using their nonprofit organization Noos as a front and creating several shell companies that invoiced fake services.
Then in April 2012 Juan Carlos was hospitalized after an injury he suffered while hunting elephants, all the while Spaniards were struggling with the harshest austerity cuts in memory. Recurring health problems and multiple operations followed, though none of them are life-threatening.
The investigation slowly built toward the incrimination of Cristina, not least because Torres' wife had been incriminated, sparking complaints that the princess was getting favorable treatment due to her status.
The public prosecutor has long objected to investigating Cristina and earlier said Judge Castro was creating “pure fiction” in his charges against the princess, a suggestion the judge fervently contested in his ruling.
It took the judge months to comb through Cristina’s financial records to find evidence to charge her, after uncovering she co-owned (with her husband) one of the alleged shell firms, where she also held a board seat, giving her access to information on the company’s activities.
Additionally, the judge found evidence of personal expenses using the allegedly ill gotten money, from the renovation of a 6-million-euro palace in Barcelona to theater tickets and gifts.
Cristina’s lawyers immediately said they will appeal the charges once again and prosecutors are expected to do the same.