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Originally published Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 3:15 PM

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Spain princess testifies in historic fraud probe

A judge will rule on whether Princess Cristina, the first Spanish royal to be questioned in court since the monarchy was restored in 1975, illegally used funds from a company she owned with her husband for personal expenses.


The Associated Press

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PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain — In a judicial hearing that could further affect the deteriorating image of Spain’s monarchy, Princess Cristina testified Saturday in a fraud and money-laundering case in which she and her husband could eventually be charged.

Judge José Castro will rule on whether Cristina, the first Spanish royal to be questioned in court since the monarchy was restored in 1975, illegally used funds from a company she owned with her husband for personal expenses, including lavish parties at their Barcelona mansion.

Hundreds of protesters blew whistles, revved motorcycle engines, honked car horns and chanted “Out with the Spanish crown!” near the back entrance of the island courthouse where Cristina was dropped off in a modest hatchback.

She smiled and said “Good morning” to a mob of journalists. Castro summoned her after naming her as a fraud and money-laundering suspect.

The closed-door session, which lasted nearly seven hours, was a key step in determining whether she will be charged; a decision could take months.

The use, or suspected abuse, of company funds to cover household expenses at the Barcelona home is among evidence Castro has compiled about Aizoon, the real-estate and consulting firm Cristina co-owned with her husband.

Castro has referred to Aizoon in court paperwork as a “front company.”

A lawyer representing an organization called Frente Civico, which has brought independent accusations against the princess, said during a recess that Cristina, 48, seemed calm and well-prepared.

But Manuel Delgado also said Cristina was evasive and at times exercised a right not to admit facts that could hurt her defense.

“She’s practically not answering anything. She doesn’t know, she doesn’t answer and that’s it,” said Delgado, who was among lawyers allowed in the courtroom to watch the testimony.

Delgado declined to comment on Castro’s questions, but said the princess told the judge “she had great confidence in her husband.”

After the hearing ended and the princess had left, giving a broad smile to reporters, her legal team said the questioning had gone well as far as it was concerned.

“Answers given with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are not considered evasive anywhere,” said Jesus Silva, one of Cristina’s lawyers.

Prosecutors dropped a subpoena in a related case because of insufficient evidence of her involvement in a foundation set up by her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, an Olympic handball medalist-turned businessman.

The legal troubles of King Juan Carlos’ younger daughter have damaged the Spanish monarchy’s image at a time of 26 percent unemployment, outrage over political corruption, tax increases and austerity.

In court records, Castro says he must determine whether the royal couple intentionally didn’t declare personal expenses on income-tax returns and whether the annual amounts are more than $163,630. If so, that would be a crime punishable by prison. If the amounts are less, fines are more likely.

The case stems from another one also led by Castro, in which he’s investigating Urdangarin for allegedly using his Duke of Palma title to embezzle public contracts through the Noos Institute, a nonprofit foundation he and a business partner set up that channeled money to other businesses, including Aizoon.

Court documents show Castro wants to clear up uncertainty about $2.2 million that may have been transferred from Noos to Aizoon.

The princess, a bank-foundation director, has been cleared of involvement in Noos.



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