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King of Spain's son-in-law questioned in corruption investigation

February 23, 2013|By Lauren Frayer | This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.
  • Inaki Urdangarin, the husband of Spain's Princess Cristina, leaves the courthouse of Palma de Mallorca after giving evidence at a corruption trial. Urdangarin and his former business partner are accused of embezzling millions of dollars from the charity they ran.
Inaki Urdangarin, the husband of Spain's Princess Cristina, leaves… (David Ramos / Getty Images )

MADRID -- Accused of embezzling millions of dollars in public funds, the king of Spain's son-in-law told a judge Saturday that the royal family had nothing to do with his financial dealings.

Hundreds of protesters chanted "Down with the monarchy!" and "Down with corruption!" outside a courthouse on the island of Mallorca where Iñaki Urdangarin was questioned by an investigating judge for the second time in less than a year. He and his former business partner, Diego Torres, are accused of stealing taxpayer money through a charity, the Noos Institute, that organized sports and cultural events. They are delinquent on a request to post $11 million in bail, but have not been formally charged.

The court hearing, meant to help the judge decide whether a trial should be held, came amid growing public disgust over a welter of corruption scandals engulfing Spain's ruling class, including the country's two main political parties. Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and dozens of other top conservative politicians accepted tens of thousands of dollars each in annual bribes from construction companies for nearly 20 years.

Urdangarin, who is married to King Juan Carlos' youngest daughter, Infanta Cristina, stepped down as chairman of Noos in 2006 after allegations surfaced of financial irregularities involving the charity's clients. Some of those clients were alleged to be shell companies created by Urdangarin to launder money. He told the court Saturday that he resigned from Noos at the request of his in-laws, but he insisted that they were not involved with his work.

"The royal family did not give its opinion on, advise or authorize the activities of Noos," Urdangarin said in a statement read aloud in court, a copy of which was leaked to Spanish media.

[For the Record, 9:44 a.m. Feb. 25: An earlier of this post contained one misspelling of Iñaki Urdangarin's name.]

Urdangarin, 45, is a former Olympic handball champion who met Princess Cristina at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. They married a year later, and Urdangarin was given the royal title Duke of Palma.

He and Torres are accused of illegally obtaining no-bid contracts from regional governments in Valencia and the Balearic Islands, then overcharging them by at least $7.5 million for conventions organized by Noos. In addition to collecting evidence ahead of a possible trial, the court is also trying to determine who else might have known about Urdangarin's dealings.

Torres has handed over to investigators dozens of emails from Urdangarin, some of which suggest that King Juan Carlos had close knowledge of his son-in-law's business dealings, but it's possible that in the emails Urdangarin may have been boasting about his access to the monarch.

As head of state, the king is immune from prosecution, but other royals are not. Princess Cristina could be called to testify.

Authorities in the town of Palma de Mallorca, the island's capital, wrote to Urdangarin last month requesting that he give up his title of Duke of Palma. They also took down signs along Duke of Palma Avenue, which has been renamed, simply, Avenue.

Spain's royals have sought to distance themselves from Urdangarin. He has been banned from royal events, cut out of the royal budget, and had his name and photo removed from the family's official website.

King Juan Carlos, 75, was credited with guiding Spain through its transition to democracy in the late 1970s, after the death of the military dictator Francisco Franco. But Spanish public approval of the royals has fallen in recent years, particularly after the king was discovered to have gone elephant hunting in Africa last spring while the rest of Spain was gripped by recession, a trip that cost many times the average Spaniard's annual income.

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