Saturday, November 08, 2014

She could face trial

Next to unemployment, corruption ranks as the greatest concern for Spaniards. In a previous post I  reported the case of  51 people – including six sitting mayors – who were arrested on charges of bribery and embezzlement. Another 86 politicians and bankers connected to savings bank Caja Madrid are also being investigated over alleged misuse of company credit cards, after racking up charges of more than €15m on everything from groceries to safaris.

Now a Spanish court has approved charges of tax fraud against Princess Cristina de Borbón, the sister of the recently crowned King Felipe VI – paving the way for an unprecedented criminal trial. The more serious charge of money laundering has been dropped.

It is one thing for a local mayor to appear in court, quite another for a member of the Royal family. Imagine in England if Charles, Anne, Andrew or Edward were in the same situation. They have had their fair share of scandal between them but nothing along the lines that Cristina faces.

Cristina will now likely be taken to trial but could still be saved by a precedent known as the the Botín doctrine. It allows a person to avoid trial if no formal accusation is made by the public prosecutor or those directly affected by the offence. The public prosecutor has consistently opposed the charges against Cristina and the criminal complaint came from the activist anti-corruption group Manos Limpias – or Clean Hands. The decision of whether or not to apply the precedent rests with the investigating judge.

The case centres on Cristina’s husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, who is charged with fraud, falsifying documents and embezzlement.

You will recall that Urdangarin ran a charitable foundation – the Nóos Institute – which is accused of siphoning off €5.8m in public funds. Under the guise of consultancy and organising sports and tourism conferences, it is alleged Urdangarin and his former business partner, Diego Torres, used their connections to win public contracts, overcharged for services and funnelled the money into privately owned companies and offshore tax havens.

Cristina was a board member of the institute and together with her husband owned another company, Aizoon. In his June ruling, investigating judge José Castro noted that Urdangarin’s alleged crimes would have been “difficult to commit without at least the knowledge and acquiescence of his wife”. Indeed, not only would she have known about what he was doing, Cristina would have benefited from the proceeds of the crimes. In court, she failed to answer any of the 400 questions put to her.

Both Cristina and her husband have denied any wrongdoing.

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