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‘All citizens equal before the law’: Princess Cristina fraud trial starts

Spain's Princess Cristina and her husband went on trial Monday under intense global media scrutiny in a landmark corruption case that has outraged the country and sullied the monarchy's reputation.

'All citizens equal before the law': Princess Cristina fraud trial starts
The royal pair arrive at court. Photo: Gerard Julien / AFP

Cristina, a 50-year-old mother-of-four with a master's degree from New York University, is the first Spanish royal to face criminal charges since the monarchy was reinstated following the 1975 death of dictator General Francisco Franco.

The princess and her husband, former Olympic handball medallist Iñaki Urdangarin, arrived together at a makeshift courtroom in Palma on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca as photographers snapped pictures and a police helicopter flew overhead.

Following courtroom rules, they had to sit apart as judges read out the alleged crimes committed by the total of 18 suspects in the case, which alleges that Urdangarin embezzled public funds through a foundation he once chaired.

Cristina has been charged with tax evasion while her husband is accused of the more serious crimes of embezzlement, influence peddling, document falsification, money laundering, forgery, breach of official duty and tax fraud.

No 'privilege' for princess

Almost immediately after the trial opened, Cristina's lawyers called for the case against her to be thrown out.

Prosecutors have always refused to press charges against her, but under Spanish law, private entities can also file criminal complaints – and that is just what anti-graft campaigners “Manos Limpias”, or “Clean Hands” did.   

Cristina's lawyers cited Spanish jurisprudence which allows an accused to escape trial if the victim of a crime does not back the charges – and in this case the alleged victim is the state.

But Virginia Lopez Negrete, the lawyer representing “Manos Limpias”, rejected the argument.

“All citizens are equal before the law and as a result anachronistic doctrines cannot be applied” that would “privilege” the princess, she said.   

Journalists from around the world have flocked to cover the trial, which was moved from a courthouse to a public administration school on the outskirts of Palma to accomodate the large number of reporters and lawyers.

It comes as Spain seethes over repeated corruption scandals that have exposed politicians, trade unions, bankers and footballers, eroding Spaniards' faith in their institutions and elites after a major economic crisis and a government austerity drive.

“We have never had as much corruption in Spain's democratic history,” said 45-year-old unemployed masseur Francisco Solana, one of a handful of protesters who gathered outside the courtroom.

“No judge will dare send Princess Cristina to jail. I think justice is not equal for all, it favours the rich,” added Solana who was wrapped in the yellow, red and purple flag of Spain's 1931-1939 second republic.

The case is centred on business dealings by the Noos Institute, a charitable organisation based in Palma which Urdangarin founded and chaired from 2004 to 2006.

The 47-year-old and his former business partner Diego Torres are suspected of embezzling €6.2 million ($6.7 million) in public funds paid by two regional governments to the organisation to stage sporting and other types of events.

Urdangarin is accused of using his royal connections to secure inflated contracts without competing bids and siphoning off some of the money into Aizoon, a firm he jointly ran with his wife Cristina to fund a lavish lifestyle.


The couple on their wedding day in April 1997. Photo: AFP

The couple are suspected of using Aizoon for personal expenses including work on the couple's mansion in Barcelona, dance lessons and even Harry Potter books, which reduced the firm's taxable profits, according to court filings.   

If convicted Cristina – who has denied knowledge of her husband's activities – faces a jail term of up to eight years. Urdangarin faces more than 19 years in prison.

Did royal palace 'cooperate'?

The corruption scandal and health woes prompted Cristina's father Juan Carlos to abdicate in 2014 in favour of his son Felipe to try to revive the scandal-hit monarchy.

King Felipe VI swiftly ordered palace accounts to be subject to an external audit and promised an honest and transparent monarchy.

Torres, Urdangarin's former business partner, has insisted that Juan Carlos and his advisers knew and approved of his son-in-law's business dealings at the Noos Institute and has hundreds of emails that can prove it.

“The royal palace was informed, supervised, and at times even cooperated,” he said during an interview broadcast on private television La Sexta on Sunday.

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ROYAL FAMILY

What is Sweden doing to celebrate the King’s 50th year on the throne?

Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf marks his 50-year jubilee next year, while the nation will mark the 500th anniversary of the year Gustav Vasa ascended to the throne after liberating Sweden from Danish rule. So, how is Sweden celebrating?

What is Sweden doing to celebrate the King's 50th year on the throne?

Carl XVI Gustaf was only 27 when he became king following the death of his grandfather, Gustaf VI Adolf in 1973, and he had been Crown Prince since his father, Prince Gustaf Adolf, died in a plane crash when he was just four years old. 

In 2018, he became Sweden’s longest reigning monarch ever, and he’s currently showing few signs of slowing down. 

Here are the main events planned for 2023 to celebrate his rule. 

January 27th: the Sweden Dinner

Jubilee celebrations will begin shortly after the New Year’s celebration, with a Sverigemiddag, or “Sweden Dinner”, planned in Stockholm at the Kungliga slottet, or Royal Palace, for January 27.

Leaders from each of Sweden’s 21 counties are invited, and those leaders will also select significant people from their counties to “set the tone” (tongivande människor) for the event.

February-September: Tour of Swedish counties

Throughout the year, the King and Queen will travel to all of Sweden’s counties, riding in a horse-drawn carriage wherever possible. These visits will take place between February and September.

June 6th: National Day celebrations

As mentioned above, on June 6, the royal couple will be in Strängnäs to mark the anniversary of the founding of modern Sweden under Gustav Vasa.

After visiting Strängnäs, the King will give a National Day speech at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, which has its own statue of Gustav Vasa, and which will itself be celebrating its 150-year anniversary next year. A National Day reception will also be held at the museum.

September 15th and September 16th: Main jubilee celebrations

September 15, 2023, officially marks 50 years from the day when Carl XVI Gustaf became Sweden’s king. 

A Jubilee dinner with international heads of state and royals will be held that evening in the Rikssalen at the Royal Palace.

The next day, on September 16th, the King and Queen will travel through Stockholm in a Jubilee Cortege. This will be followed by a Jubilee Concert, which will be open to the public and may also be broadcast live on TV and radio.

While not all these events will be open to the public, there are plenty of opportunities for regular civilians to get caught up in Jubilee celebrations. In March, an exhibition titled “Vasa to Bernadotte – Culture in the service of the kingdom 1523 – 1973 – 2023”, tracking the history of the Swedish monarchy, will open at the Royal Palace. And in June, an outdoor photography retrospective on Carl XVI Gustaf’s time as King will open at Slottsbacken, by the Royal Palace. 

Gustaf Vasa led a rebellion against the Danish King Kristian II, led Sweden’s reformation, and established Sweden as a unitary kingdom. Photo: National Museum of Sweden

So what’s planned to celebrate the the Vasa anniversary? 

Next year isn’t all about contemporary royalty, there’s also a historical king to celebrate. 

Gustav Vasa, or Gustav 1st, is seen by many Swedes as the country’s greatest ever ruler. During his rule, Vasa did away with the tradition of elected monarchs, replacing the system with a hereditary monarchy, then ruled by the House of Vasa.

The day he was elected king, June 6th, 1523, is now celebrated as Sweden’s national day.

So on June 6th, a full day of festivities is planned in Strängnäs, the city where Vasa’s election was held, with King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia presiding over the day’s events.

The Royal Castles will mark Gustav Vasa’s election with a variety of events, including lectures, concerts, and park walks planned throughout the year at Vasaborgen Gripsholm, or Gripsholm Castle, in Mariefred. The castle itself is an important historical site, dating back to the era of Sweden’s Vasa rulers

You can apply for tickets here from March for the events at Gripsholm Castle. 

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