The popular Spanish monarchy is going through its first modern scandal. Fourteen years after Iñaki Urdangarin joined the royal family by marrying the princess Infanta Cristina, he is now involved in embezzlement allegations. Urdangarin became Duke of Palma by marrying the youngest daughter of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, at a ceremony in Barcelona in 1997.
Urdangarin, today 44, was a professional handball player, winning many trophies, as well as Olympic medals for Spain. He retired from professional sport in 2000, and went on to study business administration.
Urdangarin founded and then helped to manage the Noos Institute between 2004 and 2006 – which is a non-profit organisation for sport and tourism events for the regional governments of the Balearic Islands and Valencia. In 2011, an anti-corruption investigation turned up what appeared to be serious inconsistencies in the institute’s accounts, which appeared to have profited Urdangarin.
It had emerged that in 2006 the King sent an adviser to try to persuade the Duke to drop his business interests in Spain. Following that, Urdangarin left Noos, which was later broken up, and he moved with Duchess Cristina and their four children to the US, to Washington DC, where the Duke took a consultant position with the Spanish telecoms firm, Telefonica.
What had begun so promisingly was no longer a fairy tale; it rather began to look like a morality tale.
Last December, the palace in Madrid announced that the duke had been suspended from any role in official engagements.
The royal son-in-law is a suspect in a wide-ranging fraud case involving more than six million euros of public funds with charges of corruption, embezzlement and tax evasion. One of the companies under investigation was half-owned by Urdangarin and the other half by Cristina.
Questions flew of who knew what – if anything – or who was involved. The king made a reference to due process in Spain, where he is the only person, the constitution says, can not ever be put on trial.
In his Christmas speech broadcast to the country, Juan Carlos said: “Luckily, we live in a State of Law, and any reprehensible act should be tried and punished in accordance with the law. Justice is the same for everyone”.
In a gesture of transparency, the royals revealed their detailed income for the first time. Under their proposal, the overall budget, already public, had been cut the year before, by some five percent, to 8.4 million euros in 2011.
Urdangarin gets no state salary.
So, ties within the family are strained, and the Spanish monarchy is under strain. The Duke has said he feels bad about it but expects to be cleared.
Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí, a communications consultant and contributor to the main Spanish newspapers, gave euronews his insight into the possible impact of the Inaki Urdangarin case on the Spanish royals.
Francisco Fuentes, euronews: “Since the restoration of constitutional democracy in Spain, its royal family has enjoyed the favour of the media and the people – in particular King Juan Carlos.
“The family has appeared to set an example of good behaviour, almost ‘untouchable’.
“Whichever way the trial of the royal son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin turns out, has the image been shattered? Has the relationship between the Spanish royal family, the media and the people changed?”
Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí: The royal family was perceived as ‘untouchable’ due to Spanish society’s gratitude towards the king for his contribution to making the attempted paramilitary coup in 1981 unsuccessful, and also because the monarchy was linked to the restoration of democracy in the late 1970s.
“But 30 years later, the now mature Spanish democratic society perceives the monarchy as not so transparent, not so open to society, and with a wide range of privileges that place it at a great distance from any other political, democratic institution in Spain.”
euronews: “In his traditional Christmas speech, the king said that the justice system applies equally to everyone. Many listeners felt that, while necessary, his affirmation was insufficient. Was he perhaps masking the seriousness of the situation?”
Gutiérrez-Rubí: “No, I think he faced the situation in a straightforward and direct way, but also, in a way, timidly. I think many people in Spain may suspect that the king was aware of his son-in-law’s activities, or was aware of the life his daughter had with her husband. I think somehow, he fell short.
“He lacked the determination, the courage, to apologise publicly, to express regret or remorse that the people could think that a member of the royal family, even if it was his son-in-law, could have abused privileges, or behaved in a way that was not very ethical, not very responsible.”
euronews: “What consequences could the trial have, whatever the outcome, for the future of the monarchy?”
Gutiérrez-Rubí: “For the moment, we will have to see the consequences for the couple, for the Princess Infanta Cristina and her husband, Urdangarín. If Urdangarín is convicted, the Infanta will probably have to give up her royal rights. She would have no choice. She would have to give up her husband or give up her royal rights. There could hardly be another way out.
“It would be incomprehensible, unjustifiable, that the Infanta not assume personally the consequences of a possible ruling against her husband. Then, the royal family, the king in this case, would have to apologise publicly for abuse by a member of his family of the royal institutional name and what it represents – profiting from it in an illegal way – and there might be, of course, penal consequences.”