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Princess Cristina of Spain Stands Trial in Tax Fraud Case

Princess Cristina became the first member of Spain's royal family to stand trial on Monday, in a tax fraud case that has become a major embarrassment for the country's monarchy.

The charges against Cristina, the 50-year-old sister of King Felipe VI, stem from an investigation into whether her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, and his business partners embezzled about six million euros, or $6.5 million, disbursed by regional officials for organizing sports events.

Mr. Urdangarin and Cristina sat in the back of the courtroom alongside 16 other defendants during procedural arguments on Monday. Cristina's lawyers argued that she should be exonerated because the charges against her were filed by a private anti-corruption association, Clean Hands, instead of by prosecutors or tax officials.

The court is expected to rule in a few weeks on whether the princess should be exonerated, along with other procedural issues, and then to resume the case in February. It is one of several political corruption scandals in Spain involving money embezzled from regional governments.

The case against Mr. Urdangarin dates from November 2011, when the police raided the offices of his nonprofit foundation, the Nóos Institute, as part of an investigation prompted by huge cost overruns for the construction of a cycling track on the Mediterranean island of Majorca. The trial is being held in Palma, which is on Majorca.

Princess Cristina was on the board of Nóos, and she and her husband owned a real estate company, Aizoon, that prosecutors say was used to channel illegal revenue from Nóos to undeclared bank accounts.

Still, public prosecutors accepted Cristina's argument that she had not been privy to the transactions made by these companies, and they also demanded her exoneration on Monday. They presented to the judges recent documents showing that the Spanish tax agency had found no reason to pursue a case against Cristina. But similar arguments, based on a legal doctrine recognized by the Spanish Supreme Court in a 2007 banking case, failed to convince the court that conducted the preliminary review of her case in 2014.

Pedro Horrach, a public prosecutor who has long argued that Cristina should not be among the defendants, said on Monday that it would in fact amount to discrimination to keep her in court, because the legal doctrine has been used in favor of others.

But Virginia López Negrete, the lawyer for Clean Hands, told the judges that accepting such arguments would "hurt Spanish justice, would leave the monarchy hurt, and the princess herself would be left socially stigmatized if this trial does not go on."

While absolving the princess of wrongdoing, prosecutors are seeking heavy sentences for several other defendants, including Mr. Urdangarin.

King Felipe VI took over in 2014 after his father, Juan Carlos, abdicated. Mr. Urdangarin had already been cut off from the royal household under Juan Carlos in late 2011, when the scandal broke. In his televised Christmas speech that year, Juan Carlos assured Spaniards, "Justice is the same for everyone."

After taking over, King Felipe also cut the royal family's public ties with his sister, as part of his efforts to fight corruption and improve the tainted image of the monarchy by making its activities more transparent. Princess Cristina was stripped by royal decree of her title as Duchess of Palma, but she has kept her succession rights, which put her sixth in line to the throne.

[Source: By Raphael Minder, The New York Times, Madrid, 11Jan16]

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