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Spanish princess faces tax fraud trial
From the Financial Times of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 14:07:29 GMT
epa04537863 (FILES) A file picture dated 08 February 2014 showing Spanish Princess Cristina upon her arrival to court in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. She is to stand trial on charges of tax fraud, Palma de Mallorca's courts said on 22 December 2014. Spanish judge investigating the Noos corruption case Jose Castro will put on trial Cristina considering her as an alleged collaborator in two tax offences committed by her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, who is accused of embezzling millions in public funds through his non-profit Noos Foundation. Castro ruled a 2.6 million euros bail to the sister of King Felipe VI. EPA/Ballesteros©EPA

Princess Cristina, the sister of the King of Spain, is to stand trial on charges of tax fraud, the first member of the royal family to appear in the dock since it was restored to the throne in 1975.

A judge in Palma de Mallorca ordered that the princess appear in court alongside Inaki Urdangarin, her husband, who is accused of embezzling millions of euros as head of a charitable sports foundation that organised events for local and regional governments.

She could face up to four years in prison if convicted. The trial, which caps an annus horribilis for the Casa de Borbon, is expected to be held in Palma next year.

The allegations against Mr Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball player, tarnished the royal family’s image. They were among the reasons why Juan Carlos abdicated as king this year after four decades on the throne.

Felipe VI, who succeeded Juan Carlos in June, promised to bring “integrity, honesty and transparency” to the royal house. He has kept a distance from the princess, his older sister, and this month announced new ethical and transparency guidelines for the royal family.

Under the rules, which take effect next month, family members will no longer be allowed to accept high-value gifts. Juan Carlos received two Ferraris from the UAE and a yacht worth about €18m from a group of businessmen.

“The new king has anticipated these problems and so whatever happens will have little effect on the crown,” says Ignacio Lago, a professor of political science at Barcelona’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

Princess Cristina is being charged with tax fraud in relation to the alleged embezzlement by her husband. She was on the board of the Instituto Nóos foundation and owned a consulting firm with her husband through which some payments were allegedly channelled.

Her lawyers say she denies the charges and in earlier evidence to the judge said she was not aware of her husband’s activities.

With his order, Judge José Castro went against a recommendation from the public prosecutor that Princess Cristina should only be fined.

Money laundering charges against the princess were dropped in November. Legal analysts thought the judge could drop the tax fraud charges as well under a rule that allows such action if a case is filed by private plaintiffs.

The case against the princess was filed by Manos Limpias, a rightwing lawyers’ group, which is asking for a prison term of eight years. State prosecutors have not filed charges and asked instead that the princess pay a €600,000 fine to cover her alleged profits from financial crimes committed by Mr Urdangarin. She paid last week.

Judge Castro ruled that the case could proceed, however, because her behaviour and possible illicit enrichment was linked directly to the alleged crimes of Mr Urdangarin.

The decision is “dubious”, said Edmundo Bal, president of the Association of State Lawyers. “We’re going to continue without accusing her,” he said.

Judge Castro has requested that Princess Cristina deposit a bond of €2.7m and her husband €15m. A total of 17 people have been ordered to stand trial in the case, expected to open in the second half of 2015. Princess Cristina and her husband deny wrongdoing.

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