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Spain's Princess Cristina, And 17 others, Back In Court For Fraud Case


Spain is riveted by something that country has never seen before - a royal on trial. Testimony began today in the trial of Spain's Princess Cristina, the king's sister, who is charged with tax fraud. It's being held on the Spanish island of Majorca. And we reached reporter Lauren Frayer at the courthouse. And Lauren, paint us a picture of this - really it's an historic trial, right?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: That's right, Renee. It's actually a makeshift courthouse because this trial had to be moved to a convention center. The regular courthouse simply isn't big enough to house such an unprecedented trial. With 18 defendants, TV crews are here from all over the world. The whole trial is airing live on Spanish TV. There's a cordon of hundreds of police here circling the building. They had to clear a path between all the TV cameras for the princess and her husband to walk into the building this morning. Inside, they're sitting in a bank of defendants' chairs with cameras pointed at them from all sides. I'm in an overflow press room next door. You can hear one of the defendants testifying behind me. The princess is staring straight ahead. She is dressed quite casually in a navy blue sweater and slacks. She's not allowed to sit next to her codefendant husband. He's three chairs over. And there are no windows in this courtroom, which may be just as well, because if the defendants could look outside, they'd see barbed wire and a watchtower. We're actually right across the street from Majorca's prison, where Cristina and her husband could end up if convicted.

MONTAGNE: OK, well, the princess is charged with tax fraud, but as you said, she's got 17 codefendants, including her husband. But how are all of them linked?

FRAYER: It all centers on a supposedly nonprofit sports foundation run by the princess' husband - so the king's brother-in-law. His name is Inaki Urdangarin. He's accused of using his royal connections to win contracts from public officials on this island and then overcharging for his services. His services were organizing sporting events. He's a former Olympian. He won a bronze medal in handball. And they're all accused of embezzling six and a half million dollars of taxpayers' money through a complex network of shell companies. Princess Cristina was on the board of one of those companies, so that's how she's involved, though she denies knowing about her husband's business affairs. She does face eight years in prison if convicted on two counts of tax fraud. The other defendants are former business associates, former government officials, who face more serious charges of money laundering and embezzlement. Her husband, for example, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

MONTAGNE: Well just briefly, how are Spaniards reacting? What are they saying?

FRAYER: So this island is where some of the allegedly embezzled money came from - from taxpayers here. So people are upset. This fraud came to light at the height of the economic crisis here, when ordinary Spaniards were still really struggling. Even now, Spanish unemployment is stuck above 20 percent. I talked to an older woman in a coffee shop this morning who said she's a royalist. She loves Spain's royal family. But she said, just think how rich they are, and they are alleged to have been stealing. The law must apply to everyone equally, she said.

MONTAGNE: Lauren, thanks very much.

FRAYER: Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: That's reporter Lauren Frayer, speaking to us from the courthouse where Spain's Princess Cristina is on trial for tax fraud. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.

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