The Spanish monarchy has spent the last several years lurching from one crisis to another, but this week there was a rare burst of good news for the beleaguered royals.
The magistrate responsible for handing down judgment in the corruption trial of the king’s sister—the Infanta Cristina, and her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, who are accused of skimming up to $8 million of public money off contracts through their supposed nonprofit sports foundation—requested and was granted a three-month extension.
El Mundo characterized the delay as “a gift from God” for the Urdangarins. The delaying of justice is also convenient for King Felipe and his wife Letizia, as they endeavor to strengthen what is termed by royal advisers “the firewall” between the royal family and his estranged sister.
They have already stripped Cristina and her husband of their titles of Duchess and Duke of Palma, and she is not included in official or unofficial family gatherings anymore.
Cristina remains sixth in line to the throne however, a right only she can relinquish. “The upper classes hate them and the lower classes hate them too,” says one Spanish society source of the Urdangarins. “They are just seen as dreadful people. There is a real risk their actions could still bring down the monarchy. Everyone now just has to wait and see.”
For many Spanish, the corruption trial is proof of what they have long suspected: that the royals milk their position for financial gain.
Juan Carlos’s grandfather, Alfonso XIII, whose image as a baby adorned Spanish coinage in the late 19th century as he was born after his father had died, fled the country during the civil war in 1931 and abandoned his estates and most of his fortune.
So, when Juan Carlos was put on the throne by Franco in 1975, he was said to be stony broke. Now, his personal wealth is estimated at as much as $2 billion.
Urdangarin issued a statement when the scandal first broke, saying, “The king’s [Juan Carlos] household neither opined on, advised, authorized or backed my activities,” but many Spaniards simply do not believe him.
One poll saw half say they thought the old king, Juan Carlos, had helped his son-in-law land business deals.
Juan Carlos’s abdication in 2014 has helped draw some heat from the scandal, and, as much as Felipe needs to separate from his sister, he is also trying to separate himself from the image of his father. Juan Carlos, now 78, was a legendary womanizer and bon viveur. Spanish journalist and writer Pilar Eyre alleged in her book The Solitude of The Queen, that the former king—who married his wife Queen Sofia in 1962—had in excess of 1500 lovers.
Being a royal horndog was something the macho Spanish culture found relatively easy to forgive, especially as Juan Carlos usually went for women of a similar social status to himself, believing them less likely to tell tales (although tabloid tales and paternity suits still follow the old king like a bad smell).
He finally stood down in June 2014 in favor of the virtuous Felipe, after news of a hunting safari leaked.
The negative publicity afterward focused on youth unemployment standing in Spain at over 50 percent. The country was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and here was the king living out an imperial fantasy.
In the wings, another crisis was refusing to go away. Juan Carlos’s favorite daughter, Infanta Cristina, and her husband Urdangarin, a handsome former Olympic handball player, were accused of an $8 million scam which, prosecutors alleged, had revolved around them overcharging local councils for staging sporting events.
The royals had always hoped that the allegation would be thrown out but, thanks to a tenacious local prosecutor in Palma de Mallorca, it became increasingly apparent that the case would go to court, and, this year, to general amazement, it did.
The case centers on accusations that Urdangarin used his royal connections to win inflated public contracts to stage sporting and other events, and then siphoned off some of the proceeds into a firm he jointly ran with Cristina, all to fund a lavish lifestyle, which included the purchase of a €7 million apartment in Barcelona in 1999.
A verdict had originally been expected by October, but the Urdangarins have now been given a temporary reprieve—this week, the chief magistrate obtained an extension until March 31, 2017 to finish the text, according to Spanish news reports.
Urdangarin is accused of nine crimes including fraud and tax evasion, and faces a maximum 19-year sentence. The Infanta faces up to eight years of imprisonment if found guilty (a less likely scenario, as Cristina is only charged with two counts of being an accessory to tax fraud, and has argued that as a homemaker she did not know the intricacies of her husband’s business dealings).
No sources claim to have any inside knowledge of which way the decision will go or how severe the sentences will be, but a guilty verdict for Urdangarin would be extremely embarrassing for Felipe, and his wife Queen Letizia, who have been working tirelessly (and with some success) to rebrand the royal household since he took over in 2014, and a few extra months to reinforce the “firewall” between themselves and Cristina will certainly be a welcome early Christmas present.