Protesters jeer Spanish king’s son-in-law as he walks into court

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Protesters jeer Spanish king’s son-in-law as he walks into court” was written by Giles Tremlett in Madrid, for The Observer on Saturday 25th February 2012 19.39 UTC

King Juan Carlos of Spain experienced the public humiliation of seeing his son-in-law jeered at by egg-throwing protesters, as he entered a courthouse to be questioned on allegations of sleaze and tax fraud on Saturday.

An angry crowd of demonstrators greeted Iñaki Urdangarín, the disgraced former golden boy of an otherwise popular royal family, as he walked into the courthouse in Palma, Majorca. At a hearing that was set to continue today, Urdangarín was questioned by prosecutors, investigating magistrate José Castro and some of the dozens of lawyers involved in one of Spain’s longest running corruption scandals.

“I appear today to demonstrate my innocence and my honour,” said the former Olympic handball player, who also holds the title of Duke of Palma. “I have discharged my duties and taken decisions properly and transparently.”

That is not what the constant flow of leaks from the investigation into the king’s son-in-law’s business dealings indicates. These point to a remarkable and rapid accumulation of millions of euros via non-profit organisations and charities, with funds sent to tax havens such as Belize.

Those allegations have enraged many Spaniards, including a woman who hurled two eggs at Urdangarín’s car. “It felt good,” she told El País newspaper. “Juan Carlos, if you knew, why did you keep quiet?” read one sign held up by protesters.

Any hopes the Spanish royal family might have had that Urdangarín’s dirty laundry could be washed in private at the hearing behind closed doors were immediately dashed as some of those present appeared to be messaging journalists about what was happening.

Among the questions Urdangarín was asked was whether the king had told him to stand down as chairman of a non-profit foundation which, according to leaks from the police investigation, was used to channel money into private bank accounts. He reportedly confirmed that the king had made the request in 2006, soon after opposition politicians on the Balearic Islands queried a €1.2m (£1m) payment.

The corruption investigation is centred on the regional governments of the Balearic Islands and Valencia, both run by prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative People’s party, who allegedly used the foundation to pay Udangarín bloated fees for organising and appearing at sports-related events.

The sight of the king’s son-in-law apparently cashing in on his royal connections has been shocking enough for Spaniards, but the idea that he also allegedly defrauded the exchequer and illegally pocketed public funds has dealt an even greater blow to the monarchy as ordinary Spaniards struggle with 23% unemployment, harsh austerity measures and the prospect of falling back into recession.

Juan Carlos has made his anger clear. In an obvious reference to the case, the king said in his traditional Christmas speech that “all are equal before the law”. He said: “When untoward conduct arises which is not in keeping with the law and ethics, society naturally reacts. Fortunately we live by the rule of law and any unworthy act must be judged and penalised.”

Urdangarín was given the title of Duke of Palma after marrying Juan Carlos’s daughter Princess Cristina. The king sidelined him from official events shortly before he was named as a formal suspect at the end of 2011. The king then disclosed limited details of his family’s income in an attempt to show greater transparency.

Urdangarín moved with his wife and four children in 2009 to Washington, DC, where he serves on the board of a subsidiary of the Spanish telecoms group Telefónica. The company refused to comment on rumours that it hired him as a favour to the king and in order to get him out of Spain. Prosecution lawyers said they would be asking the judge to take his passport away this weekend, preventing him from returning to the United States.

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