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Spanish princess testifies in corruption case

By Al Goodman, CNN
updated 3:43 PM EST, Sun February 9, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Princess Cristina of Spain appears Saturday in a private proceeding
  • "Buenos dias," she says upon entering; "Hasta luego," she says upon departure
  • Cristina and husband are accused in corruption case
  • The princess maintained her innocence, lawyers at the hearing tell CNN

Palma de Mallorca, Spain (CNN) -- It was expected to be a court date like no other, with Spaniards riveted to a financial corruption case that involves members of the royal family.

But on Saturday, when Princess Cristina arrived at the courthouse here just before 10 a.m., she offered them little. "Buenos dias," she told reporters. "Buenos dias."

With that, she entered the building for a proceeding that was closed to the public in a courtroom where a photograph of her father, King Juan Carlos, hangs on a wall. As head of state, his photograph hangs at many courts.

Outside, several hundred anti-monarchy and pro-republic demonstrators chanted noisily.

An audio recording was made of her testimony, but it is intended for internal court use only.

Upon leaving about seven hours later, she offered the news media little more than she had given upon arrival. "Hasta luego," she said. "Gracias."

Her appearance marked the first time a direct member of Spain's royal family was to testify in court while facing preliminary charges for a crime, according to Spain's royal household.

Her husband, Inaki Urdgangarin, faces preliminary charges in the same matter and testified a year ago. The case centers on his nonprofit Noos foundation, which received millions of dollars in government contracts to stage sports and tourism events.

Princess maintained her innocence, lawyers said

Judge Jose Castro is investigating whether part of that money may have been diverted for private use by the princess, who is 48, and her husband, 46. Through their legal teams, both deny any wrongdoing, and in court on Saturday, the princess maintained her innocence, lawyers who were present at the proceedings said.

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The closed-door testimony for the princess was held at a local court here in the Balearic Islands. The courthouse is near the Marivent Palace, the royal family's summer residence on Mallorca, one of Europe's top tourist destinations.

Judge Castro last April leveled preliminary charges against the princess in this case, but they were dropped in May after prosecutors appealed to a provincial court, citing insufficient evidence.

But Castro continued his investigation and last month issued a 227-page order, again bringing preliminary charges against the princess, for alleged tax fraud and money laundering through a separate company, Aizoon, in which she had a 50% stake, with her husband holding the rest.

"They used that company to pocket the public money and also to pay the lowest possible tax or simply cheat the Treasury," said Eduardo Inda, investigations editor at El Mundo newspaper who co-authored a book, "Urdangarin," about the alleged financial improprieties.

"In that company, Princess Cristina is the one who signs the annual reports," Inda said.

When the new preliminary charges were filed in January, Cristina's top lawyer, veteran politician and defense attorney Miquel Roca, told reporters they would appeal.

But a week later, there was a sudden change of position, and it was announced that the princess would testify. Roca appeared with his client at the courthouse on Saturday.

The about-face was not due to pressure from the royal household, but instead was a personal decision by the princess, who persuaded her defense team on the issue, said an official familiar with discussions within the royal household, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It was her decision to testify, simply because she has nothing to hide, and she's convinced the preliminary charges could be dropped, and it's better to testify than let the idea of cowardice be out there," the official said.

The preliminary charges eventually could be dropped, but a filing of indictments would set a trial in motion.

One of various corruption scandals during the economic crisis

The case is one of various financial corruption scandals affecting the royal family and major political parties and a leading union, during the economic crisis, when many Spaniards have lost jobs or had to tighten their financial belts.

Princess Cristina's testimony comes as a new report by the European Commission shows that 95% of Spaniards say that corruption is widespread in the nation.

The royal household two years ago excluded Princess Cristina and her husband from representing Spain at official functions, like one in Madrid this week, when the King, Queen Sofia, Crown Prince Felipe and his wife, Princess Letizia, welcomed the foreign diplomatic corps.

But some Spaniards say the princess is still getting special treatment.

"It's great they're finally bringing preliminary charges," said student Mariana Moragrega, outside the royal palace in Madrid, on Friday. "But considering she's the King's daughter, she'll be very protected, and won't go to jail."

Spanish media reports said the judge is not expected to immediately issue a decision on whether to proceed with the case or to drop the charges against the princess.

READ: Preliminary charges again filed against Spain's Princess Cristina

CNN's Elwyn Lopez contributed to this report

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