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Spain king's son-in-law questioned over corruption

By Manu Mielniezuk and Daniel Woolls
Associated Press / February 24, 2012
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PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain—As public relations nightmares go, it can't get much uglier: The Spanish king's son-in-law will be questioned over alleged corruption while everyday people brave austerity measures, tax hikes, staggering unemployment and bleak prospects for the future.

Inaki Urdangarin -- the Duke of Palma -- has not been charged with a crime. But his arrival Saturday at a courthouse on this Mediterranean resort island will be one for the history books anyway -- photographed, filmed and written about by an army of ravenous media.

The case file against the 44-year-old commoner who married Princess Cristina, the second of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia's three children, remains sealed.

But much has been leaked.

The duke is suspected of using his high-profile status to win contracts from regional governments for a nonprofit foundation he ran, then subcontract the work to companies he also oversaw, sometimes charging the public ridiculously inflated prices and stashing at least some of the income in overseas tax havens.

Urdangarin is a former professional and Olympic handball player and the deals he landed were for things such as organizing seminars on using sports as a tourism lure. The newspaper El Mundo reports the revenue he and associates took in may have exceeded euro6 million ($8 million).

Urdangarin comes from a wealthy Basque family but is not nobility; he became Duke of Palma because Cristina is Duchess of Palma.

Urdangarin's lawyer Mario Pascual Vives told reporters this week that his client is eager to testify and clear things up, and any errors he may have made are of an "administrative" nature.

The duke's alleged misdeeds go back to the period 2004-2006. Urdangarin, the princess and their four children moved to Washington, D.C. in 2009, as an investigation was quietly under way.

The case exploded into the media late last year as Spain was buffeted by Europe's debt crisis, its economic growth grinding to a halt and already huge jobless numbers swelling.

Ricardo Mateos, a Spanish historian who specializes in European monarchies, said Spain runs no risk of being swept away by pro-republican sentiment as a result of the Urdangarin scandal.

But Mateos said it's been devastating for the royal household's image and has even caused divisions within the family itself.

The king has unceremoniously dropped Urdangarin, announcing in December that his son-in-law would no longer take part in official ceremonies with the rest of the family.

"Besides the damage to their public image," Mateos said, "the damage is also great for the private side of the family. It is very divided right now and going through a very hard time."

Were Urdangarin to be charged and convicted of a crime, the princess might be stripped of the Duchess of Palma title, Mateos said, adding that at the very least Urdangarin would likely lose his title.


Woolls reported from Madrid

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