Spanish princess and husband go on trial for graft

Princess Cristina and her husband Inaki Urdangarin arriving at court on the island of Majorca yesterday. Cristina has been charged with tax evasion while her husband is accused of embezzlement, influence peddling, document falsification, money launde
Princess Cristina and her husband Inaki Urdangarin arriving at court on the island of Majorca yesterday. Cristina has been charged with tax evasion while her husband is accused of embezzlement, influence peddling, document falsification, money laundering and tax fraud.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MADRID • Spain's Princess Cristina and her husband have gone on trial under intense global media scrutiny in a landmark graft case that has outraged the country and sullied the monarchy's reputation.

Cristina, a 50-year-old mother of four with a master's degree from New York University, is the first Spanish royal to face criminal charges in court since the monarchy was reinstated in 1975.

The trial of the princess and 17 other accused, including her husband, former Olympic handball medallist Inaki Urdangarin, started yesterday in Palma on the Mediterranean island of Majorca, where the royals have a holiday home.

The couple arrived together an hour ahead of the proceedings, walking briskly into court as photographers snapped away. Following court rules, they had to sit apart as their alleged crimes were read out.

Cristina has been charged with tax evasion while her husband is accused of the more serious crimes of embezzlement, influence peddling, document falsification, money laundering and tax fraud.

The corruption scandal around King Felipe VI's sister outraged Spaniards across the country and contributed to her father's abdication in 2014. It also saw Cristina plunge from darling of Spain's celebrity press to national "baddie" - a dramatic fall from grace after her fairytale marriage in 1997 to a tall, handsome Olympic medallist.

Last year, the new King stripped Cristina and her husband of their titles as Duke and Duchess of Palma.

Urdangarin, 47, and his former business partner are accused of embezzling €6.2 million (S$9.7 million) in public funds paid by two regional governments to their charity to stage events.

Urdangarin is accused of using his royal connections to secure inflated contracts and siphoning off some of the funds into a firm jointly run by the couple for their lavish personal expenses.

The trial is expected to last six months. If convicted, Cristina faces up to eight years in jail. Urdangarin faces more than 19 years in jail.

Mr Francisco Solana, 45, an unemployed man who protested outside the courtroom before the start of the trial, said: "No judge will dare send Princess Cristina to jail. I think justice is not equal for all. It favours the rich."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Spanish princess and husband go on trial for graft'. Print Edition | Subscribe