Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Urdangarin Case

This coming Saturday, the streets around the courts in Palma will, as they were this time last year, once more be thronged with members of the world's media. The son-in-law of King Juan Carlos, Iñaki Urdangarin, aka (and still for the time being) the Duke of Palma, will be the star turn. He has been required, for a second time, to declare in front of the investigating judge, José Castro, on matters related to alleged diversion of public funds that were, again allegedly, channelled to offshore tax havens via an organisation that the Duke had established, the Instituto Nóos.

Majorca has not been without its fair share of court-appearance spectaculars in recent years. Mostly, these have involved politicians facing corruption and fraud allegations. The Urdangarin case is quite different, as the cast list of those either directly or indirectly implicated makes it different. In addition to Urdangarin, this cast includes his former business partner, Diego Torres, Urdangarin's wife, Princess Cristina, and even the King himself. This is not, therefore, any old corruption investigation, it is one that threatens to go to the very heart of arguably the most important institution in Spain, one that holds a potentially increasingly volatile nation together, the monarchy.

The Urdangarin case arose from a corruption investigation into a politician, the former president of the Balearics, Jaume Matas. Though it first drew Judge Castro's attention in June 2010, public awareness of the case only truly emerged in November 2011 and focused initially on invoices raised by the Instituto Nóos that were sent to the Fundación Illesport, a body linked to the tourism ministry in the Balearics. Nóos was an organisation that Urdangarin and Torres had created with the principal aim of it being a vehicle for advising on and organising sports-related events. The invoices referred to the staging of forums and were raised between 2005 and 2007. They amounted to 2.3 million euros.

What alerted prosecutors and Judge Castro were the amounts and the fact that there had apparently been no open tender for the work. They also related to the period when Matas was president; the final invoice was raised just before the elections in 2007 that Matas lost.

Since these invoices became public knowledge, the case has moved on significantly. Other events that Nóos was involved with have been brought into the investigation, such as the Valencia Summit in 2004, an annual sporting debate. For organising this, Nóos was originally anticipating receiving three million euros. There has also been the revelation that the King ordered Urdangarin to give up his position with Nóos in 2006, but another organisation, the Fundación Deporte, Cultura e Integración, was subsequently formed by Urdangarin and Torres. This foundation, so prosecutors have alleged, was another means of siphoning funds to tax havens such as Belize.

When Urdangarin declared last February, he maintained that his former partner, Diego Torres, had robbed him. He also stated that his wife, Princess Cristina, had nothing do with either Nóos or a real-estate company, Aizoon. She was a director but was not engaged in its running as such. Aizoon has also been investigated for possible diversion of funds.

At the end of Urdangarin's declaration last year, the prosecutors ruled out indicting the Princess, believing that she knew nothing of her husband's affairs. The prosecutors are still saying there are not grounds for her to be indicted, but the possibility remains that she might be. If so, the affair would move ever closer to the King.

Prior to the latest declaration by Urdangarin and also that of Diego Torres, which is currently being heard, Judge Castro made what might seem an extraordinary statement. Referring to the 500 pages of evidence that have been amassed, the judge said that Nóos had been an organised plot of premeditated criminality. Against this background and of the various revelations that have emerged since last February, Urdangarin is now due back in court.

Urdangarin's re-appearance before Judge Castro was never going to be easy, but it has become even harder as a consequence of what Torres has been saying and revealing in court. As part of his defence, he has released hundreds of emails which suggest that the royal household was more aware of his and Urdangarin's activities than had been previously understood.

The royal family's personal attorney, José Manuel Romero, is one of those implicated in these emails. He has denied involvement in or offering legal advice to the Fundación Deporte, Cultura e Integración, the foundation that succeeded Nóos. Another attorney, that of both Princess Cristina and Princess Elena, has already been indicted over work that was allegedly undertaken for Nóos.

Other information that has emerged from the Torres emails is the fact that the King knew of an association between Urdangarin and Corinna Sayn-Wittgenstein, a German socialite and businesswoman and personal friend of the King's. Urdangarin, according to the emails, was to become associated with another foundation with sporting interests, Laureus, and Corinna had assisted in his gaining a position with a remuneration of 250,000 euros. More than this, the Torres emails point to the fact that Corinna was involved in the Valencia Summit in 2004.

Torres has repeatedly said that he has not been able to understand why his wife, Ana Maria Tejeiro, has been implicated in the Nóos affair and Princess Cristina has not been. His strategy of releasing email information to Judge Castro is designed, at least in part, to show that the Princess was more knowledgeable of her husband's affairs than Urdangarin has suggested and that the royal household was aware of this. He has also alleged that he has been offered money in order that he should remain silent. But Torres is not going to be silent. There is more to come, and it could be even more damaging for the Princess and for the royal family. And for Urdangarin. His court appearance is only a few days away, but what more might be revealed in the meantime?

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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