The trial of Princess Cristina on charges of tax fraud must go ahead, the Balearic High Court ruled today, throwing out an appeal by her lawyers in a case that has badly damaged the image of the royal family.
The 50-year-old sister of King Felipe is one of 18 people on trial following a six-year investigation into the Instituto Nóos, an organisation run by her husband Iñaki Urdangarin. Prosecutors say Nóos was used to embezzle millions of euros in public funds and that Urdangarin, who is also on trial, exploited his royal connections to win public contracts to stage events through the non-profit organisation.
Princess Cristina is charged with two counts of being an accessory to tax fraud and, if found guilty, could face up to four years in prison for each charge - a maximum of eight years. Her lawyers had asked judges to drop the criminal charges against her, and the state prosecutor said there was insufficient evidence to back up the accusations.
But the High Court said that it was upholding the charges, which were filed by the Manos Limpias ("Clean Hands") organisation, using a Spanish legal instrument known as the people’s accusation (private prosecution). Her defence had argued that the so-called Botin Doctrine should apply, a reference to the late president of Santander Bank, Emilio Botin, against whom a private case was brought but which did not go ahead because of the lack of a state prosecution as well.
“In the trial we will continue to defend the innocence of the princess with conviction and confidence,” her lawyer, Miquel Roca, told journalists outside the courtroom in Palma, adding that her defence would lodge further appeals whenever possible. The case has added to public anger in Spain over high-level corruption scandals in business and political circles at a time when many Spaniards are still struggling with unemployment in the wake of a severe economic downturn.
The accused are due to reappear in court for questioning in February. Since the start of the Nóos trial, the Royal Household has kept its distance from events in Palma. Princess Cristina ceased to be part of the Royal Family as such when Felipe was crowned in June 2014. At that point she simply became the King’s sister. However, she had been out of the official limelight from the end of 2011, and all official duties ended following the abdication of King Juan Carlos.
In June last year, the King revoked her title of Duchess of Palma, which she had held since 1997 and which had been granted by her father, Juan Carlos. When the investigating judge, José Castro, ruled that she should stand trial, there was speculation as to whether she should give up her dynastic rights. Although the title was removed, she continues to have these and will do unless she decides to renounce them.