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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 21 October, 2014

Spanish princess appears in court over fraud investigation

Princess Cristina is in court to answer questions about her husband’s business dealings.

Princess Cristina arrives at the courthouse this morning
Princess Cristina arrives at the courthouse this morning
Image: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

SPANISH KING JUAN Carlos’s daughter Cristina entered court smiling under the gaze of the world’s media this morning to answer fraud accusations, a historic first for the troubled royal family.

After stepping out of a dark car, the blonde-haired princess walked the final few steps into a court in Palma de Majorca, nodding to television crews, photographers and reporters crowded near the door.

Dressed in a white shirt and black jacket, the 48-year-old princess appeared relaxed as she headed into the closed-door hearing with a judge who suspects her of tax fraud and money-laundering.

Scores of pro-republican protesters rallied just outside a police-patrolled exclusion zone, brandishing banners with slogans such as “Royal blood = unreal justice” or “Heads of state by the ballot, not the cradle”.

The rare royal spectacle unfolded on a warm winter’s day under sunny skies, on an island where for decades Cristina’s family holidayed.

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The car carrying Princess Cristina arrives at the courthouse (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Now the island is the centre of an embarrassing scandal that has turned much of the public against the royals and raised doubts over the very future of the monarchy.

Inside the courtroom, red velvet chairs were lined up where Cristina must sit before investigating judge Jose Castro, overlooked by a photograph portrait of her own father, Juan Carlos, 76.

Unlike most suspects, the court gave Cristina the right to drive down a paved ramp to the court entrance, citing security concerns raised by the police.

The decision spared the princess a longer, potentially humiliating walk to justice in front of the media’s lenses.

Long thought untouchable as a royal, Cristina finds herself in the centre of scandal, accused of being complicit in allegedly fraudulent business dealings of her husband, who is also under investigation.

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Photographers and cameramen outside the courthouse (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Neither Cristina nor her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, have been formally charged with any crime and both deny wrongdoing.

Mounting public anger

Castro has spent more than two years investigating allegations that Urdangarin and a former business partner embezzled €6 million in public funds via a charitable foundation.

Cristina was a member of the foundation’s board and with her husband jointly owned another company, Aizoon, which investigators suspect served as a front for laundering embezzled money.

State prosecutors say there is no case to answer against Cristina but the judge has admitted suits brought by pressure groups.

It is the first time a direct member of the royal family has ever gone to court as a suspect. The hearing follows more than two years of mounting anger against the elite in a Spain battered by recession.

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(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Juan Carlos won widespread respect for helping steer Spain to democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

But the royals’ popularity has plunged since the case against Urdangarin opened three years ago.

The king’s woes were worsened by a luxury elephant-hunting trip he made to Africa in 2012 as his subjects suffered in a recession.

These scandals and the sight of the king looking frail on crutches in his rare public appearances have raised debate about the future of his reign.

A recent poll showed 62 per cent of Spaniards in favour of his abdication. Support for the monarchy in general fell to just under half.

For years the family were photographed by the press spending their summer holidays on Majorca, where they stayed at the Marivent Palace, a red-roofed edifice overlooking the Mediterranean.

But they have kept a low profile since the scandal broke.

- © AFP, 2014

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