The government on Friday made a point of thanking King Juan Carlos for his contribution to national stability, just one day before his son-in-law was due to testify in court over a high-profile embezzlement case that has put the Spanish monarchy in the spotlight.
Following Friday’s Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, of the conservative Popular Party, praised the monarch’s “determination” and the “political stability provided by the palace as an arbiter and moderator for [Spain’s] institutions.” She also noted the king’s role in the “development of democracy,” in Spain, a reference to Juan Carlos’s support for the democratic transition following the death of Franco in 1975.
The statements coincided with the publication of an article in The New York Times (NYT) exploring Juan Carlos’s knowledge of his son-in-law’s business dealings. Iñaki Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball player and husband of Princess Cristina, is accused of securing millions of euros in public contracts from the regional governments of Valencia and the Balearics without official bids. Part of the funds obtained were then channeled to privately owned companies and offshore tax havens. The contracts were awarded to the Nóos Institute, a non-profit foundation owned by Urdangarin and his former business partner, Diego Torres, who faces the same charges.
Torres has been providing authorities with hundreds of e-mails meant to prove that the royal palace condoned Urdangarin’s activities. Several emails obtained by the NYT suggest Juan Carlos tried to get Urdangarin to drop the foundation and to find him another job as early as 2004.
The NYT piece also says Spanish intelligence services have been “approaching top newspaper executives to tone down coverage of the investigation, according to people with ties to the palace and some of Spain’s leading newspapers.” EL PAÍS has denied receiving any such pressure.
Torres claimed the royal household did not care what the king’s son-in-law did, as long as he did not officially show up in the management chart of a foundation suspected of siphoning off millions of euros in no-bid public contracts. He told the judge investigating the case that this was essentially the message he received from royal advisor José Manuel Romero.
“So Urdangarin could do as he pleased, as long as he did not show up in the governing bodies?” asked Judge José Castro during Torres’ court testimony on February 16.
“Essentially, that is what Mr Romero told him,” Torres replied. The transcript of the statements was handed over to lawyers on Friday.
Torres said the husband of Princess Cristina found it “very hard and very difficult to accept” the idea of stepping down as chairman of the Nóos Institute, the sports foundation that obtained millions of euros from the governments of Valencia and the Balearics.
In fact, the ex-handball player remained behind Nóos’ projects because “he was still very interested in its activities.” Asked for the reasons behind this pretense at leaving the foundation, Torres replied that it was “out of media pressure.”
“Were you blackmailing Urdangarin and his close circle and asking for millions to take all the blame and relieve him of any responsibility?” the anti-corruption attorney Pedro Horrach asked.
“That is insulting! Absolutely not... It’s a lie, an absolute lie,” replied Torres, alleging that it was the other way around. He said Urdangarin’s aides approached him with an offer of money and a new job in exchange for taking the fall alone.