Spain's Princess Cristina acquitted in tax fraud trial

King’s sister acquitted, but husband Iñaki Urdangarin given six-year jail sentence on charges including fraud and tax evasion

Princess Cristina, the sister of the Spanish king, and her husband Inaki Urdangarin, outside a court in Mallorca in June 2016.
Princess Cristina, the sister of the Spanish king, and her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, outside a court in Mallorca in June 2016. Photograph: Cati Cladera/EPA

Spain’s Princess Cristina, the sister of King Felipe VI, has been cleared of helping her husband evade taxes after a year-long trial that has further tarnished the image of the royal family and done little to allay public concern over the apparent ubiquity of corruption at the highest levels of Spanish society.

Her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, was sentenced to six years and three months in prison and fined more than €500,000 after being found guilty of charges including embezzlement, fraud and tax evasion.

Cristina, 51, was the first royal to face criminal charges since the restoration of the Spanish monarchy in 1975 and could have gone to prison for eight years if she had been found guilty. Despite the acquittal, she was ordered to pay a €265,000 fine for “civil responsibility” for benefitting, albeit indirectly and unknowingly, from her husband’s activities.

The princess and her husband were among 18 co-defendants facing a total of 89 charges ranging from fraud and money laundering to trafficking of influences.

Urdangarin, a 49-year-old businessman and former Olympic handball player, was accused of taking advantage of his royal connections to win inflated public contracts to stage sporting and other events and then siphoning off the proceeds to fund a lavish lifestyle.

The case was heard in Palma de Mallorca, the regional capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands, because many of Urdangarin’s business deals under investigation related to the islands.

Neither Cristina nor her husband were in court for Friday’s verdict.

Urdangarin and his former business partner Diego Torres were accused of embezzling about €6m (£4.6m) in public money that was paid to their non-profit organisation, the Nóos Institute, to organise events. Torres was given an eight-year prison term.

One of the companies that allegedly benefited from Nóos was Aizoon, a real estate firm that Urdangarin owned with his wife. Aizoon was labelled a “front company” in court documents.

The princess was accused of making personal use of Aizoon funds to pay for clothes and dance lessons for the couple’s children, as well as for work on their Barcelona mansion, lowering the firm’s taxable income.

Cristina in court in January 2016
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Cristina in court in January 2016. Photograph: Getty Images

The prosecution claimed Cristina could not have been unaware of her husband’s activities. Questioned in court in February 2014 before she or her husband had been charged, she said she took her husband at his word. During six hours of questioning, she replied “I don’t know” 188 times and “I don’t remember” on 55 occasions.

The princess ended up in court after the far-right pressure group Manos Limpias (Clean Hands) brought a tax evasion case against her using legal provision that allows private groups to start criminal proceedings.

However, the group’s own credibility suffered after its leader was detained for alleged extortion and other charges, and was accused of asking the princess’s lawyers for money in exchange for dropping its accusations against her.

Miquel Roca, a lawyer for the princess, said his client was “satisfied with the acknowledgement of her innocence” but added she remained convinced that 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,” Roca told reporters in Barcelona.

A spokesman for the royal family told Spanish media that it respected the court’s decision.

King Felipe has endeavoured to improve his family’s public image since ascending to the throne after the abdication of his father, Juan Carlos, in 2014.

Details of the so-called Nóos case emerged in 2011, and another major turning point in the Spanish public’s view of their royal family occurred a year later when, at the height of the country’s economic crisis, Juan Carlos was pictured on an expensive hunting trip to Botswana.

Cristina and Urdangarin married in 1997 in a lavish ceremony in Barcelona and were bestowed the titles of Duke and Duchess of Palma by Juan Carlos.

The couple’s multimillion-euro mansion has been impounded by the courts and Cristina was notably absent from ceremonies marking Felipe’s ascension to the throne in June 2014.

Felipe removed Cristina and her sister Elena from royal duties when he became king and stripped Cristina of her title of Duchess of Palma a year later as she prepared to face trial.