Cristina, the younger daughter of King Juan Carlos, faces
preliminary charges of tax fraud and money laundering linked to her
use of funds from a shell company she co-owned with her husband
Inaki Urdangarin, who is charged with crimes including embezzling 6
million euros of public money.
It is the first time since the monarchy was restored in 1975 after
the Francisco Franco dictatorship that a member of the royal family
has been summoned in a criminal proceeding.
The princess, 48, arrived at the courthouse shortly before 10 am
(0900 GMT) to face dozens of questions from the judge in a
closed-door hearing in Palma de Mallorca, capital of the Balearic
Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball player, is accused of using
his royal connections to win generous no-bid contracts from the
Balearic government to put on sports and marketing events during the
boom years before a 2008 property market crash, when local
governments were awash with cash.
He and his partners in a consulting firm called the Noos Institute
are accused of overcharging, and of charging for services never
The court gave the princess — accused of using Noos Institute
proceeds to pay for items such as an expensive remodeling of her
Barcelona mansion — special permission to be driven to the
courthouse door, citing security reasons.
The decision sparked public outrage because it allowed the princess
to dodge hundreds of television cameras and further heated a debate
over whether she has been given favorable judicial treatment.
She was driven down the ramp and walked the last few steps to the
courthouse, smiling at the press and dressed soberly in a white
shirt and black jacket.
Spanish broadcasters have incessantly replayed footage of her
grim-faced husband walking into court along a pedestrian ramp when
he went before the judge last year.
"I'm a monarchist, but if they have done wrong they should return
what they stole and be exposed just like the rest of us," said Angel
Rodriguez, an 80-year-old pensioner passing by the court.
There were almost 400 reporters outside the court and around 200
The scandal has run parallel to a prolonged slide in the popularity
of the once-revered King Juan Carlos after a series of gaffes showed
his high-flying lifestyle to be woefully out of step with a nation
suffering economic hardship.
An opinion poll released last month put the king's popularity at a
record low, with almost two thirds of Spaniards wanting him to
abdicate and hand the crown to his son.
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As Spain slowly shakes free of a prolonged economic and financial
crisis, national and local governments are tightening their belts
and judges are looking into hundreds of corruption cases from the
easy-money years before 2008.
The multiple probes of top politicians, union leaders and bankers
are being pushed by anti-graft groups, while state prosecutors balk
at tackling politically sensitive cases.
That is the case with Judge Jose Castro's investigation of Princess
Cristina. He has pursued the case spurred on by private
anti-corruption groups and despite resistance from the state
prosecutor, who has come out in defense of the princess.
After Saturday's hearing, Castro could formalize the charges and
move to trial, or he could drop the charges or allow the princess to
plea to lesser charges.
Many Spaniards think she will get off lightly.
"This is a country where there are no consequences for being
corrupt. They get a free ride," said Maria Gomila, an 18-year-old
Dozens of civil servants demonstrated near the courthouse late on
Friday against public spending cuts and "institutionalized
Castro brought the preliminary charges against the princess in
January in a 227-page ruling. Last year he brought charges of aiding
and abetting, only to have them thrown out by a higher court. The
investigation began four years ago.
Both the princess and Urdangarin — who have not represented the
Crown at official events since 2011 — have denied wrongdoing.
The princess has stuck by her husband, but last year moved with
their four children to Switzerland to escape media attention. She
works for a charitable foundation there.
More than 200 extra police officers were on hand in Palma de
Mallorca in case of protests near the courthouse and road blocks
were put up in the neighborhood.
(Additional reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary;
editing by Fiona Ortiz
and Sonya Hepinstall)
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