Wednesday 20 September 2017

Spain's Princess Cristina cleared in tax fraud case, but husband jailed

Princess Cristina arrives at court for the corruption trial (AP)
Princess Cristina arrives at court for the corruption trial (AP)

Spain's Princess Cristina has been found not guilty of being an accessory to fraud, but her husband was convicted and sentenced to more than six years in prison.

In a wide-ranging tax fraud case that captivated Spain, a panel of judges ruled that Cristina, the 51-year-old sister of King Felipe VI, will be required to pay nearly 265,000 euros (£227,000) in fines because the court considers that she indirectly benefited from the fraud.

Her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, was found guilty of evading taxes, fraud and other charges. He was sentenced to six years and three months in prison and a fine of 512,000 euros (£438,000).

Urdangarin, a 49-year-old former handball Olympic medallist, can appeal to the Supreme Court, but the public prosecutor announced that it would request a hearing to decide whether he needs to await developments in jail. He is still free so far.

The trial centred on accusations that Urdangarin used his former title, the Duke of Palma, to embezzle about 6 million euros (£5 million) in public funds for the non-profit Noos Institute.

The provincial court in Palma de Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands, found six other people guilty, including Urdangarin's business partner and a former regional president of the Balearic Islands. Ten people including Cristina were acquitted.

In a country mired with corruption scandals in politics and business, Spaniards paid close attention to the "Noos case" since the first signs of Urdangarin's involvement emerged six years ago.

As the scandal unfolded, former King Juan Carlos's decision to abdicate the throne in 2014 was seen as an effort to allow his son Felipe to restore the monarchy's credibility.

When Cristina was indicted, King Felipe cancelled her titles of Duchess of Palma, granted by their father in 1997 on the occasion of her wedding. She and Urdangarin are no longer invited to any official events by the Royal House.

A spokesman for the Royal House told Spanish media that Felipe and Queen Letizia respected the court's independence.

Inigo Mendez de Vigo, the minister who speaks for prime minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government, said the ruling "shows that nobody is above the law and that the rule of law works".

The Noos Institute organised conferences and sports-related events. Among the companies used by the institute to hide funds was Aizoon, a real estate consulting company jointly owned by Cristina and Urdangarin that paid for family holidays and wine bills, according to court documents.

Urdangarin ran Noos Institute with a partner, Diego Torres, who was sentenced to eight and a half years. Torres's wife was acquitted.

A lawyer with Cristina's defence team, Miquel Roca, said the princess was "satisfied for the acknowledgement of her innocence" but she was still convinced her husband was not guilty.

"If we believed in the judicial system when the princess was made to sit in the dock, I think citizens can trust in it when she's absolved," he said.

AP

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