BARCELONA –– Spain’s Princess Cristina has become the first member of the country’s royal family to be put on trial.
She is charged with being an accomplice in an alleged embezzlement scam involving her husband and 16 other defendants, who all deny the charges.
Princess Cristina, 50, faces eight years in jail if found guilty by a three-member panel of judges.
The trial in Palma, Majorca, is seen as an embarrassment for the royal family.
Princess Cristina arrived at the court in Palma today with her husband Inaki Urdangarin, who is accused of embezzlement and money laundering.
They made no statement to reporters. A small group of anti-monarchists protested outside.
As the judges read out the charges, the princess sat at the back of a makeshift courtroom at the public administration school in Palma. Her husband sat in the same row but court rules prevented them from sitting together.
Urdangarin’s supposedly non-profit Noos Institute sports foundation was allegedly used as a vehicle to win falsely inflated contracts from regional government bodies, before channelling the money to personal accounts via tax havens.
Noos is alleged to have received more than €6 million (BDS$12,791,240) of public money, most of it from the Balearic Islands and Valencia regional governments.
If found guilty, Urdangarin could face 19 years and six months in jail.
Princess Cristina was a board member at the foundation and, with Urdangarin, co-owned a real estate company called Aizoon, which prosecutors say was used to launder embezzled funds.
One of the allegations against the princess is that she made personal use of Aizoon funds for paying for clothes and dance lessons for the couple’s children, as well as work on the couple’s Barcelona mansion.
The case was launched in 2010 by a judge investigating corruption among Balearic Islands officials. It has become highly symbolic of perceived corruption among Spain’s elites, including the royal family.
As the trial began, the princess’s lawyer asked the judges to drop the case against her because it was not supported by public prosecutors.
Anti-corruption prosecutor Pedro Horrach said putting her on trial would amount to discrimination and state attorney Dolores Ripoll said the tax authorities did not believe she had committed a crime.
The princess’s defence lawyer argued that the only accusation against the princess had been made privately, by anti-corruption group Manos Limpias (Clean Hands). Lawyers cited the so-called “Botin doctrine”, named after a case dropped against a former Spanish bank chief in 2007.
Clean Hands lawyer Virginia Lopez Negrete condemned the doctrine as “anachronistic” and said all citizens were equal before the law.
Last year, King Felipe stripped his sister of the title of Duchess of Palma, but she remains sixth in line to the throne.