As part of the ongoing investigation into the financial and tax affairs of Princess Cristina, Judge José Castro has now summoned her to explain “certain objective evidence” related to tax evasion and money laundering. Far from endangering a pillar of the state or the future of the monarchy, the magistrate’s decision constitutes a symptom of the democratic health of a society that is currently plagued by criticism of the functioning of its institutions.
There is nothing surprising about a judge handling a criminal case such as this. What would be indefensible is the opposite: that no questions be asked of the king’s daughter, simply because of who she is. The judge’s move not only forms part of normal procedure, but also shows the equality of citizens before the law — as pointed out by King Juan Carlos himself, in his 2011 Christmas speech — and the effective separation of powers.
This judicial summons follows upon a November 14 report from the public prosecutor’s office, denying that there was any need for doña Cristina to testify in court. This move was criticized in some judicial circles as constituting pressure on the judge. This has not fazed Castro, who, in view of the doubts about the conduct of a citizen, independently of whether she is a member of the royal family, has summoned her to testify.
The judge’s move not only forms part of normal procedure, but also shows the equality of citizens before the law
The judge is not arguing that there is evidence of crimes, but rather that a long list of expenses has been charged to the firm Aizoon, which, in his view, may constitute the distribution of dividends without these funds being declared to the Tax Office. The amounts, it seems, were charged to the company as operating expenses but in reality had nothing to do with its activity. In the judge’s view, this firm was a front company, which served as an “indispensable framework for the committing of the fiscal crimes that are under investigation.”
There are a number of questions that need to be cleared up about the case: for example, whether the tax fraud amounts to 120,000 euros or above, the level at which it would be considered a crime; and whether the infanta’s ownership of 50 percent of that firm means she is responsible for the management of its funds, or whether this concerns only her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, who was the administrator of Aizoon. The fact that both of them charged personal and household expenses to the company, as well as the fact that they rented part of their family residence to the firm Aizoon, may or may not have a reasonable explanation.
What would be unacceptable is for these doubts to remain in the air, as part of a supposed dark side of democracy. The members of the king’s family have no formal privileges as such; thus, if the writ calling on her to testify is confirmed, doña Cristina must appear in the Palma courthouse like any other citizen. It would not be tolerable for her statement to be delayed another two months, on the back of three years of investigation. But the infanta’s defense team, the prosecutor and the other interested parties all have a right of appeal, and the judge has set a prudent time limit for the resolution of any appeals, upon which the confirmation of his writ will depend.
If Princess Cristina does end up testifying in court, this would not prejudice the future of her case. A further 42 people have been called in the course of the same investigation, some of whom have been named as suspects, and others who have not. Any discussion of innocence or guilt must be delayed until formal charges are laid, or the infanta is excluded from the proceedings. In any case it is evident that this latest step taken by Judge Castro can only be understood as an appropriate response to the demand for transparency that characterizes any stable democracy.