Europe Top News

Spain Hit by New Scandal as King's Son-in-Law Appears in Court

Spanish King Juan Carlos' son-in-law, Inaqui Urdangarin arrives at a courthouse in Palma de Mallorca, on the Spanish Balearic Island of Mallorca, on February 23, 2013, to testify in the Noos corruption case.
James Reina | AFP | Getty Images

The Spanishking's son-in-law appeared before a judge on the island ofMallorca on Saturday to respond to charges of tax fraud in asix-million-euro embezzlement case that has eroded publicsupport for the once-popular royal family.

The scandal and other corruption cases in which politiciansare accused of taking millions of euros in bribes have enragedSpaniards at a time when unemployment has soared to 26 percentin a deep recession.

Inaki Urdangarin, a former Olympics handball player who ismarried to the king's daughter, the Infanta Cristina, is accusedof using his powerful connections to win public contracts to puton events on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca and elsewherein Spain.

His Noos Foundation is suspected of overcharging fororganising conferences about the business of sports and hidingthe proceeds abroad.

Dozens of police officials guarded the courthouse in Palmaas Urdangarin got out of a car and walked down a 30-metre accessramp into the building for the closed-door hearing where he willbe questioned by Examining Magistrate Jose Castro.

Near the courthouse, a few hundred protesters chanted andheld up signs reading "down with the monarchy" and "they callthis a democracy but it isn't".

More than a hundred journalists were also on hand.

In Spain's legal system, lengthy pre-trial investigationsare carried out by an examining magistrate, or judge.Urdangarin, 45, is charged with fraud, forgery, embezzlement andcorruption. If convicted, he could face a prison sentence andfines.

Urdangarin was first charged and called in for questioningin 2011, but a trial could still be months or years away as thejudge continues his probe and adds or dismisses charges.

Judge Castro was expected to question Urdangarin for most ofthe day on Saturday and perhaps into the early hours of Sunday.

Urdangarin is fighting an order that he and a formerbusiness partner in the Noos Foundation post bail of 8.2 millioneuros. His assets could be seized if he does not meet bail.

The judge will also question on Saturday Carlos GarciaRevenga, former treasurer for the Noos Foundation and alsoprivate secretary to Urdangarin's wife, Cristina, 47.

Judge Castro is trying to find out how much the InfantaCristina knew about the business of the foundation. A criminalindictment of the king's daughter would be an unprecedentedaccusation against a royal in Spain.

Cristina is the only one of five directors of the NoosFoundation that has not been charged with a crime.

Photographers Removed

The royal family has taken efforts to distance itself fromUrdangarin, whose official title is Duke of Palma. Photos of himhave been wiped off the royal website. He has also been bannedfrom royal family events for over a year.

In Spain's severe economic downturn, more companies announcelay-offs each week. Tens of thousands of homeowners havedefaulted on their mortgages and been evicted from their homes.The government has cut public salaries and spending on healthand education.

Public angst over the economy has been aggravated by anumber of high-profile corruption cases from the 1990s and early2000s, when a tax bonanza from a property boom fuelled massivepublic spending on events and infrastructure that now look likefolly.

In another case that has rocked Spain, prosecutors arelooking into millions of euros in Swiss bank accounts controlledby a former politician from the ruling People's Party, LuisBarcenas, who is charged with bribery, money laundering and taxevasion.

In Palma, where a number of corruption cases have surfaced,Urdangarin has become a despised figure.

The local government held a news event earlier this monthand in front of television crews ceremoniously removed a streetsign "Boulevard of the Duke and Duchess of Palma" and renamedthe street.

"It's a disgrace for our islands that have been sosupportive of the royal family," said Esperanza Ruiz, a residentof Palma, as she shopped in a supermarket near the courthouse.

King Juan Carlos, who took the throne in 1975, was the mostpopular public figure in Spain in the late 1970s because of hisrole in supporting the transition to democracy after the longFrancisco Franco dictatorship.

But for the first time, politicians have openly called forhim to abdicate and hand the throne to his son, Prince Felipe,as his prestige has eroded due to the Urdangarin case, as wellas his own missteps. Metroscopia polling firm figures show hisapproval rating has fallen to 58 percent from much higherlevels.

Last year, when Spain seemed on the brink of bankruptcy andPrime Minister Mariano Rajoy was imposing unpopular budget cuts,the king fell and broke his hip during an elephant huntingsafari with wealthy friends in Botswana.

The king, 75, made an unprecedented public apology for thetrip, which had been secret until his accident.