Cristina de Borbón, sister to Spain’s King Felipe VI, arrived at a Mallorca courthouse on Monday morning as a defendant in a high-profile corruption trial involving 17 other people, including her husband, former regional politicians and businesspeople.
The case has drawn considerable attention as this is the first time that a member of the Spanish royal family has been brought to trial.
Cristina, 50, is being charged with tax fraud over her role in the so-called Nóos case. Her husband, former Olympic handball player Iñaki Urdangarin, faces over 19 years in prison if found guilty of the charges of embezzlement, document forgery and money laundering.
This is the first time that a member of the Spanish royal family has been brought to trial
He and a business partner are believed to have used their non-profit Nóos Institute to divert around €6.2 million from public contracts won for organizing sports events into private accounts. Cristina sat on the board of a company, Aizoon, that was allegedly used to channel part of these funds.
Urdangarin arrived at the Mallorca courthouse in the same vehicle as Cristina at around 8.15am. Other leading suspects in the case showed up minutes later, including former Balearic Islands premier Jaume Matas, whose involvement in the construction of a cycling track in Mallorca triggered the Nóos case.
But Felipe’s sister, who has fought hard to avoid this moment, could still see both tax fraud charges dropped if her lawyers and the prosecutor get their way.
As the session began shortly before 9.30am, Cristina’s lawyers attempted to convince Judge Samantha Romero that their client should be exonerated based on Supreme Court doctrine from 2007, involving a tax case against leading banker Emilio Botín that was dropped.
The accusation against Cristina, they note, was not brought by state prosecutors or by tax authorities, but by a private accusation – a far-right anti-corruption group called Manos Limpias (Clean Hands).
But the judge who led the preliminary inquiry dismissed this argument in a widely reported fallout with his own anticorruption attorney, Pedro Horrach, who vehemently defended the royal’s innocence.
Today's session will focus exclusively on “preliminary issues” that could still get defendants exonerated from the trial proper, scheduled to begin on February 9.
Once all 18 of them have set out their claims to be exempted from the dock, Romero and the two other judges who are handling the case will review the material and decide whether anyone is left out. Additionally, defendants and prosecutors still have time to settle through plea bargains ahead of that date.
Necessary or decorative?
The private accusation holds that Felipe’s sister was “a necessary collaborator” in a tax fraud that mostly involves her husband. But the anti-corruption attorney describes her as a mere “decorative element” placed there because of her royal status.
Cristina allegedly used an Aizoon credit card to make personal purchases – including dance lessons and children’s clothing – then claimed tax deductions on her 2007 and 2008 filings.
Aizoon did not have any known activity, and was apparently a front company set up by Urdangarin to channel funds secured from the regional governments of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, which overpaid for sports events organized by Nóos.
Ever since the scandal broke in December 2011, when preliminary charges were brought against Urdangarin, the royal house has sought to distance itself from the couple. Juan Carlos, who was the king at the time, dropped them from all official events. But the case is thought to have played a role in the monarch’s decision to abdicate in June 2014, when the monarchy’s popularity reached an all-time low.
English version by Susana Urra.