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Royal family looks at ways to deal with son-in-law's possible indictment

Queen shows support by allowing photos of her recent visit to Washington

The Spanish royal family has not issued any public comments concerning the legal problems of Iñaki Urdangarin, the son-in-law to King Juan Carlos who is facing possible criminal prosecution for allegedly diverting public money from a non-profit organization to his private businesses.

Urdangarin, who is married to Princess Cristina, has been living in Washington since the undercover investigation Operation Babel broke several years ago.

According to sources, King Juan Carlos and his family are looking at ways to divest his two daughters, Cristina and her eldest sister Princess Elena, from official royal duties. They would keep their titles as princess but would not be taking part in any official ceremonies, much like the roles of the king's sisters, Pilar and Margarita.

The presence of Cristina and Elena at official functions will no longer be necessary since the line of succession has already been established through Prince Felipe and his two daughters, Leonor and Sofía.

This plan to keep the king's daughters in the background is becoming a more viable one given that the investigation into Urdangarin's companies is gaining momentum.

But following speculation about the princesses' roles, and given the number of activities Elena and Cristina have been absent from in recent years, the Zarzuela Palace on Thursday issued a statement saying that it "had nothing to do" with determining the composition of the members of the royal family.

According to prosecutors and tax officials, Urdangarin's non-profit Institute Nóos won some six million euros in public contracts from the regional governments of the Balearic Islands and Valencia to organize sports and tourism events between 2004 and 2006. Investigators say the events that Nóos organized were overpriced, and believe that a lot of the money was diverted to Urdangarin's private companies. Sources have told EL PAÍS that the royal son-in-law is expected to be indicted within the coming weeks.

Even though the royal family has not commented on the inquiry, there have been some signs of support for Urdangarin. Last week, Queen Sofía traveled to Washington and allowed a photographer from the popular weekly magazine ¡Hola! to take some snaps of her, Urdangarin and Cristina emerging from their home in the US capital.

The report, along with the photographs, which appeared in this week's issue, were approved by the queen, the magazine said.

Many interpret it as a sign of support for her son-in-law because during past visits the royal family's security detail has prevented journalists from photographing the queen and her family, because the Washington visits were private.

The queen was in New York to attend the annual banquet held at the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute. She then went to Washington on November 30 to stay with her daughter, son-in-law, and her four grandchildren. On past visits the queen has stayed at a hotel. Seen with the royal family going to restaurants and enjoying other activities was Alexia of Greece, the daughter of Sofía's brother Constantine.

King Juan Carlos, however, has kept his distance from his son-in-law. He and Felipe met with Urdangarin privately early last month to analyze his legal situation. If tradition is observed, Princess Cristina and her husband will spend Christmas Eve at the Zarzuela royal palace with the rest of the family.