A fraud trial has opened for Spain’s Princess Cristina who is accused of helping bankroll a lavish lifestyle with funds her husband received from an alleged scheme to embezzle around €6 million (£4.5m).
Princess Cristina and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, said nothing to dozens of reporters as they entered a makeshift courthouse in Palma de Mallorca, amid tight police security aimed at keeping anti-monarchy protesters away from the scene.
The two then sat silently among a group of 16 other defendants as a judge read out the charges for the historic trial, which marks the first time that a member of Spain’s royal family has faced criminal charges since the monarchy was restored in 1975.
The 50-year-old princess faces two counts of tax fraud carrying a maximum prison sentence of eight years for allegedly failing to declare taxes on personal expenses paid by a real estate company she owned with Urdangarin, an Olympic handball medallist turned businessman.
He faces more serious charges of using his former Duke of Palma title to embezzle around €6m in public contracts through the non-profit Noos Institute he ran with an associate.
Princess Cristina has a chance of avoiding the trial if the judges agree with arguments her lawyers made in court that a Spanish legal precedent should be applied to her case that allows tax fraud cases to be dropped when they are not initiated by prosecutors.
But the same tactic cannot be used by her husband, meaning it is all but inevitable that details come out during the proceedings about the couple’s everyday life behind the high walls of the mansion they were forced to sell during the investigation.
There are so many defendants and lawyers involved, as well as dozens of reporters covering the case, that judicial officials were forced to move the trial from a courthouse to a sprawling building complex on the outskirts of Palma de Mallorca normally used to hold mass training courses for public servants.
The case is being heard in the regional capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands because many of Urdangarin’s business deals under investigation were for the islands.
The princess and her husband are not expected to utter a word during the first few days of the trial.
Princess Cristina denied knowledge of her husband’s activities when she appeared during a 2014 closed-door court appearance and a prosecutor recommended she should be fined.
But a judge decided she could be charged with tax fraud in 2007 and 2008 because Spanish law allows groups to file charges. The trial is expected to last six months.