Madrid, Spain, Feb 17 – A Spanish court on Friday acquitted King Felipe VI’s sister, Princess Cristina, of charges that she helped her husband evade taxes, in a case that shamed the royal family.
Her husband, however, Inaki Urdangarin, was given a jail sentence of six years and three months for syphoning off millions of euros between 2004 and 2006 from a foundation he headed in the island of Majorca.
Urdangarin can file an appeal but may be taken into custody soon as the prosecutor is considering whether to request his imprisonment, a judicial source said.
The 51-year-old princess was the first member of Spain’s royal family to face criminal charges since the monarchy’s restoration in 1975.
“We must acquit and we are acquitting Cristina Federica… of tax fraud, of which she was accused,” the court said.
She was ordered however to pay a fine of 265,000 euros ($282,000) for benefiting from her husband’s wrongdoing. He was fined 512,000 euros.
The case, heard in Palma, sullied the reputation of the royal household and became a symbol of the elite’s perceived corruption.
The scandal broke in 2011 amid Spain’s deepest economic crisis in decades.
Princess Cristina faced up to eight years in prison if convicted of fraud over her 49-year-old husband’s work with the non-profit Noos Institute sports foundation.
Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball medallist was charged with the more serious crimes of embezzlement, influence peddling, forgery and money laundering.
The couple, who have been married since 1997 and have four children together, went on trial last year along with 15 others, including former government minister Jaume Matas.
– ‘Equality of all citizens?’ –
After her 1997 fairytale marriage to Urdangarin, Princess Cristina was constantly in the celebrity spotlight and won praise for having a salaried job.
But eventually, people began to raise eyebrows at the couple’s lavish lifestyle.
In 2004 they purchased a 1,200-square-metre (13,000-square-foot) house for six million euros ($6.3 million) in Barcelona, with centre-right daily El Mundo asking: “Where is the money coming from?”
When Spain was hit especially hard by the global financial crisis, the so-called Noos scandal further fanned public anger against the ruling class.
It soured the last years of the reign of Felipe’s father Juan Carlos, who gave up the throne in June 2014 after 39 years, hoping his son could freshen up the image of the monarchy.
Cristina’s husband Urdangarin has consistently claimed he never made any decisions without the royal family’s knowledge.
Since the scandal erupted, the pair have been excluded from all of the family’s official public appearances.
After Friday’s ruling was announced, Cristina’s lawyer Miquel Roca said she was “satisfied” with the verdict but saddened by her husband’s jail sentence.
“She was satisfied but also … pained to see her husband convicted. She believes his conviction is unjust, because she has always believed — and still believes — that he is innocent,” Roca told reporters in Barcelona.
The judgement, he added, acts as proof of “the equality of all citizens before the law”.
The royal family did not comment on the ruling, though the place expressed its “greatest respect for the independence of the judiciary”.
King Felipe VI on Friday morning smiled as he opened an art exhibition in Madrid.
“No one is above the law,” said a spokesman of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government on Friday.
Spanish media said the couple learned of the ruling, which was delivered in absentia, in Geneva, where they have lived since 2013 with their children.