Spanish royalty in the dock: Princess Cristina fraud case opens

Juan Carlos's daughter appears in court to answer tax and money laundering allegations as support for Spain's monarchy dives

For more than six hours in Palma de Mallorca yesterday, Princess Cristina, daughter of King Juan Carlos and seventh in line to the throne, had the dubious honour of becoming the first direct member of the modern-day Spanish royal family to be questioned in court.

Facing a summons over allegations of being complicit in her husband's alleged tax fraud and money laundering, the princess avoided a full 40-metre "perp walk" to the five-storey stone court house in central Palma in front of dozens of television crews. She and her husband refute all allegations and deny any wrongdoings.

For security reasons, she was driven to the court's back door then very briefly faced the cameras before entering, her black jacket and dark trousers as low-key as her arrival. Once inside, as she sat in a high-backed chair opposite investigating judge Jose Castro, remaining incommunicado was a less easy option. For weeks, Spain's media had speculated about every detail of the king's daughter's court appearance. In a display of the intensity of interest, one television company measured the distance between Cristina's chair and Judge Castro – 2m, 20cms.

In the closed hearing, Cristina was expected to explain how and why she and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin racked up considerable personal expenses on a company credit card. The company in question, Aizoon, may have acted as a "shell" for laundering around ¤6m (£5m) of public money, allegedly acquired by Mr Urdangarin and his former business partner, Diego Torres, through a non-for-profit institute, Noos, in a separate case where Urdangarin faces possible accusations of tax evasion, falsification of documents and embezzlement. Princess Cristina has been cleared in the "Noos case".

Co-owned by Cristina and her husband, Aizoon outlays allegedly ranged from renovation of the family home in Barcelona – seized by the courts after her husband failed to post a bond for ¤6m in the Noos case – to a cocktail party costing ¤4,591, salsa classes and Harry Potter books. "She is acting very calmly, she's well-prepared," one lawyer at the hearing was reported as saying. That she had to make her declaration below a portrait of her father King Juan Carlos – present in all Spanish courts – was a reminder of the effects of the case for Spain's monarchy.

Once Europe's most beloved royal family, a series of public relations blunders and the drip-feed of lurid headlines surrounding the Urdangarin case have damaged their popularity. In 1998, El País reported yesterday, 78 per cent of Spaniards were in favour of the monarchy and 11 per cent preferred a republic. By 2012, 53 per cent remained pro-royal, while the pro-republican vote had more than tripled – to 37 per cent.

Yesterday, a noisy anti-royal demonstration was kept well away from the court, behind barriers. The closest streets to the court were closed and some 200 police officers had been drafted in. Not everybody was complaining, though. Enterprising flat owners had rented balconies overlooking the court at up to ¤1,500 a day. "A case like this may not sink the monarchy, but it's damaged their prestige," said Patricia Felix Navarro, a teacher, before the hearing. "Cristina is just another citizen and if I pay my taxes and obey the law, then so should she and her husband."

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