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Spain princess fights fraud accusations in court

By AFP - Feb 08,2014 - Last updated at Feb 08,2014

PALMA, Spain — Spain’s Princess Cristina fought to distance herself from fraud accusations as she faced a tough court hearing Saturday over a scandal that has plunged the royal family into crisis.

King Juan Carlos’s youngest daughter, 48, smiled and looked relaxed as she arrived at court in Palma on the holiday island of Majorca, nodding to television crews, photographers and reporters crowded near the door.

Dressed in a white shirt and black jacket, she stepped out of a car and walked into the closed-door hearing to answer accusations that she was complicit in tax-dodging and money-laundering.

Long thought untouchable as a royal, Cristina is in the centre of the scandal over allegedly fraudulent business dealings by her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin.

One of the prosecuting lawyers in the courtroom told reporters she sought to side-step the accusations by telling the judge she had simply “had great trust in her husband”.

“Ninety-five per cent of her answers are evasive. She is calm, relaxed and well prepared,” said Manuel Delgado, a lawyer for a civil party in the case, left-wing association Frente Civico.

Cristina is the first direct member of the Spanish royal family in history to appear in a court as a suspect.

The hearing follows more than two years of mounting anger against the elite in a Spain battered by recession.

Near the court on a sunny winter’s day, scores of pro-republican protesters rallied, held back by police barriers.

They waved red, yellow and purple republican flags, and banners with slogans such as “Royal blood — unreal justice” or “Heads of state by the ballot, not the cradle”.

“It seems the privileges they have aren’t enough for them — they have to do something that really annoys the people,” said Mateo Castellanos, 61, who travelled hundreds of kilometres from the mainland to protest.

“A large part of the country is suffering hardship and a lot of people don’t have enough to feed their children.”

From sunbathing to scandal

Majorca, where for decades Cristina’s family sunbathed and sailed yachts in the summer, is now the centre of a scandal that has turned much of the public against them and raised doubts over the very future of the monarchy.

Neither Cristina nor her husband have been formally charged with any crime and both deny wrongdoing.

“The judge is asking very rigorous questions,” Delgado told reporters on Saturday during a break in the proceedings.

“She is exercising her right not to give answers that would compromise her. She is not diverging from the script we expected: she does not know, she does not answer and that’s it.”

Judge Jose Castro has spent more than two years investigating allegations that Urdangarin and a former business partner embezzled six million euros ($8 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.

Castro questioned her in a courtroom overlooked by a portrait of her own father, Juan Carlos, 76.

The king 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, polls have shown.

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.

The sight of the king looking frail on crutches in his rare public appearances has fuelled speculation over whether he may abdicate in favour of his son and heir Felipe, 46.

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