April 3, 2013 5:52 pm

Spanish princess is suspect in fraud case

Spain's Princess Cristina waves from inside a car beside her husband Inaki Urdangarin©AP

A judge has formally named the King of Spain’s youngest daughter as a suspect in a high-profile fraud investigation, dealing a fresh blow to the royal family at a time of growing popular discontent with the ageing monarch.

Princess Cristina Federica de Borbón y Grecia will be formally questioned in Palma de Mallorca on April 27, according to an official court filing released on Wednesday. She will become the first direct member of Spain’s royal family to testify as a suspect since the restoration of the monarchy almost four decades ago.

The document reveals that Cristina is now a formal suspect in a long-running probe into her husband’s activities as president of the Instituto Nóos, a not-for-profit sports marketing body.

Iñaki Urdangarin, a former star handball player who met the princess at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, is alleged to have embezzled millions of euros in public funds. Among other things, Mr Urdangarin is alleged to have presented vastly-inflated bills to regional governments for organising conferences and providing consultancy work.

Judge José Castro, who is leading the investigation, pointed out in the court filing that Cristina was a member of the board of Instituto Nóos, arguing there were “serious doubts” that the princess was entirely unaware of her husband’s activities. The decision to name her as a suspect, he added, reflected not least the need to avoid any accusation that “justice is not the same for everyone”.

The royal palace declined to comment.

King Juan Carlos has already suffered a sharp slide in popular support over the past year after a series of scandals involving the royal family. The 75-year-old monarch was forced to issue a rare public apology in April last year, after he injured himself during an elephant hunting trip in Botswana.

The holiday – which only came to light because the king had to be flown back for treatment after breaking his hip – was widely condemned as an ill-timed luxury, especially in the light of Spain’s deepening economic crisis and soaring unemployment rate. Juan Carlos had declared only weeks earlier that he was not able to sleep out of concern for the country’s unemployed youth.

A recent opinion poll in the El Mundo newspaper found that only 50 per cent of Spaniards said they had a good or very good opinion of the king’s reign – down from more than 72 per cent a year ago. Close to 45 per cent of respondents said they wanted Juan Carlos to abdicate in favour of his son, Felipe, the crown prince. Forty-one per cent said they wanted to abolish the monarchy altogether, more than ever before.

Mindful of the king’s faltering popularity, the palace has recently sought to put maximum distance between the royal family and Mr Urdangarin by dropping his biography from the official royal website and barring him from appearing at public events.

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