No Fairy-Tale Ending

By Elkin, Mike | Newsweek, January 31, 2014 | Go to article overview

No Fairy-Tale Ending


Elkin, Mike, Newsweek


Byline: Mike Elkin

Whatever happened to Happily Ever After? No storybook princess was ever asked to explain whether she was on the take. In Spain, however, the royal family finds itself in a legal mess that could alter the way the constitutional monarchy is seen both at home and abroad.

As there is no legal precedent for when the worlds of royalty and criminality collide, the examination of the king of Spain's daughter Cristina de Borbon, 48 - known officially as Infanta Cristina, duchess of Palma de Mallorca - has taken a long time to arrange.

On February 8, a Spanish judge will question the princess, the youngest daughter of King Juan Carlos, as a suspect in an alleged embezzlement scheme. The public prosecutor says the princess's husband and his business partner funneled around $11 million from public coffers into their private bank accounts.

On Saturday, January 11, the princess's lawyers said they would not appeal a summons from the investigative judge, Jose Castro, so she will personally field questions from his inquiry into possible charges of tax fraud and money laundering.

Cristina's husband, the former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, who turned 46 a few weeks ago, and his business partner, Diego Torres, are accused of embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and falsifying documents. Prosecutors claim that between May 2003 and December 2008, their nonprofit Noos Foundation, in cahoots with local politicians, overcharged the regional governments in Valencia and the Balearic Islands, as well as Valencia city hall, for consultancy work and to organize several sports and tourism conferences.

It is suggested Torres and Urdangarin then channeled the funds into various dummy firms and eventually into a number of private accounts around the world. The firms allegedly listed phantom employees who neither worked nor were paid but whose presence on the books afforded generous tax breaks.

According to Spanish law, the judge can subpoena witnesses to testify as part of the pretrial investigation and also issue a summons known as an imputacion that falls between an American-style subpoena and an indictment. The summons means there is evidence the person being questioned may have committed a crime.

Castro summoned the princess last spring, but the public prosecutor, the public defender's office and Cristina's lawyers appealed on grounds that there was no evidence linking the princess to the alleged crimes. A provincial court blocked the summons, but suggested Castro investigate further.

The judge's second effort was published in January. Castro - who has been applauded on the street by those who recognize him - contends that there is enough preliminary evidence to warrant a summons to testify in court.

For instance, the princess sat on the Noos Foundation board until 2006, when both she and Urdangarin left the foundation (reportedly on instructions from the royal palace). The princess is the only member of the Noos board from that time whom Castro has not yet questioned as a possible suspect.

The royal couple were also joint shareholders in Aizoon, one of the alleged dummy companies used to funnel Noos money into the masterminds' bank accounts. A witness testified that Urdangarin's lawyer referred to the presence of the princess as a "shield against the tax office."

After combing through both Aizoon's accounting records and the princess's financial history, the judge concluded that many of the firm's operating expenses were really Cristina's personal and family expenses. Urdangarin and Cristina have four children, ages 8 to 14.

Castro cited receipts for hotels in Rome; Washington, D.C.; New York; and Detroit, restaurants in Barcelona, and family trips to Rio de Janeiro, South Africa and Mozambique. From press clips, the African trip appears to have been a mixture of vacation, safari and visiting health centers and laboratories as part of the princess's charity work. …

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