Once known as “Spain’s Princess Diana,” King Felipe‘s older sister is facing criminal fraud charges.
Monday saw the start of the trial of Princess Cristina de Borbén – the first member of Spain’s royal family ever to be put on trial in a criminal court.
Cristina, 50, is charged with tax fraud as part of an alleged $6 million embezzlement scheme involving her husband and 16 other defendants, all of whom plead their innocence.
The royal faces eight years in jail if the three-member panel of judges finds her guilty.
Cristina’s brother King Felipe stripped her of her dukedom in June 2015 when he removed her title “Duchess of Palma,” which she received from their father, Juan Carlos I, when she married in 1997. But she has refused to waive her right of succession to the throne (she is currently sixth in line).
The trial, held in Palma, Majorca, is seen as an embarrassment for the royal family. It’s expected to last until the end of June and, according to court sources, will feature testimony from 363 witnesses.
In a bid to distance himself from the 70,000 page indictment, the king has cleared his calendar after being advised not be photographed in public on Monday.
Cristina arrived together with her sportsman-turned-businessman husband, Inaki Urdangarin, 47, on Monday morning, sweeping past a small group of anti-monarchists protestors, without speaking to reporters.
Inside, each sat separately beneath a portrait of King Felipe, which hangs above the impromptu judicial bench.
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The trial is being held in a modern government-owned building on the outskirts of the city because the island capital’s courtrooms are too small to manage the proceedings.
The princess’s lawyers opened by arguing that their client could not be prosecuted by the court, and that the judicial process in its entirety was invalid.
When the trial halted for a midmorning recess to consider this, the princess was the first to leave the room, eyewitnesses report, not waiting for her husband, a former Olympic handball player who won bronze medals with the Spanish national team in 1996 and 2000.
Urdangarin could be sentenced up to 19 years in prison on a wider array of charges than those faced by his wife. They include embezzlement of public funds, money laundering, falsifying private contracts and influence peddling.
Princess Cristina has been following the course of action in stony silence, sitting up straight in her blue chair at the end of the third row with her hands in her lap.
By contrast, her husband has been visibly restless throughout, looking around, scratching and whispering to a sometime associate, who is also a defendant in the case.
Although neither the princess nor her husband uttered a word in court, and won’t be required to until February when the defendants are scheduled to take the stand, Monday’s proceedings occasionally became quite lively.
At one point, Court President Samantha Romero felt it necessary to interrupt the lawyers, ordering all silent to prevent them from speaking simultaneously.
Following a four-year investigation by prosecuting authorities, the princess is accused of being an accomplice to tax fraud in this complex case.
The prosecution contends that her husband’s supposedly non-profit company was used as a vehicle in a scheme to win falsely inflated contracts from regional government bodies, before channeling the money through off-shore tax havens into personal accounts.
Princess Cristina was a board member of the charitable Néos sports foundation, which the prosecution alleges was instrumental in the fraud, and co-owned, with her husband, a real estate company, which prosecutors say was used to launder the embezzled funds.
The trial continues.