Spain king's son-in-law protects royals in scandal

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 24 2013 09:42 AM | Updated as of Feb 24 2013 05:42 PM

PALMA DE MAJORCA, Spain - Spanish King Juan Carlos's son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin worked on Saturday to distance the royal family from a corruption scandal that has struck at the heart of the palace.

Urdangarin, husband of the king's youngest daughter Cristina, was questioned by a judge investigating allegations that he embezzled millions of euros of public money paid to Noos, a charity he managed.

"The royal family did not give its opinion on, advise or authorise the activities of Noos," Urdangarin told the judge, according to a copy of his declaration published by Spanish media.

Urdangarin's former business partner Diego Torres last weekend reportedly told the judge that the palace oversaw the activities of the company, from which Urdangarin quit as chairman in 2006.

Urdangarin and Torres are suspected of syphoning off money paid by regional governments to the Noos Institute, based on the island of Majorca, to stage sports and tourism events.

Both men have denied any wrongdoing and have not been charged with any crime. The judge is investigating the case with a view to possibly putting them on trial.

The royal palace sidelined Urdangarin from its official functions when the affair erupted in 2011, but has failed to prevent it reaching the palace itself.

Spanish newspapers citing unnamed sources in the case said Torres named Cristina as a decision-maker in the running of Noos.

He reportedly handed the judge emails which appeared to indicate that the king backed and closely followed his business career.

The emails have reportedly been added to the investigating judge's file.

Carlos Garcia Revenga, the longtime secretary of Cristina and her sister Elena in the palace, was questioned after Urdangarin on Saturday by Jose Castro.

He too tried to distance the royal family from the affair, declaring that neither he nor Cristina took part in managing the company despite being named among its directors, Spanish media said.

Urdangarin made no comment to reporters when he arrived at court nor when he left after his four-hour closed-door hearing.

A crowd of protesters massed near the court yelling in rage at the alleged corruption, which has fanned public anger at a time of economic hardship.

Juan Carlos has enjoyed widespread respect for helping guide Spain to democracy in the 1970s.

But as Spain grapples with a record unemployment rate of 26 percent and government spending cuts, the allegations of corruption have taken their toll on the monarchy.

General support for having a monarchy in Spain fell to a historic low of 54 percent, according to a poll published last month in daily newspaper El Mundo.

This month the court in Palma de Majorca said it would begin freezing assets belonging to Urdangarin and Torres after they missed a deadline to pay bail of 8.2 million euros ($11.1 million).

Since the bail was applied in a civil case the two will not go to jail for not paying the sum.

Urdangarin, a 45-year-old former Olympic handball champion, acquired the title of Duke of Palma when he wed Cristina in 1997.

On top of the corruption scandal, King Juan Carlos, 75, has seen his health suffer in recent years.

The palace announced that the king will have surgery for a slipped disc on March 3 at a Madrid clinic -- his seventh operation in three years.

The royal palace on Friday said the king was not planning to abdicate despite a press report to that effect and calls by several regional politicians for him to step aside for his son Felipe, 45.

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