In one of the last steps before a possible trial, a Spanish judge has formally charged Princess Cristina, the sister of King Felipe VI, on tax fraud and money laundering charges.
As Lauren Frayer reported in February, Cristina and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, have been under investigation for years. Prosecutors allege Urdangarin embezzled $8 million in public donations through shell companies, at least one of which was partially owned by the princess.
"The central question is her participation in a company called Aizoon, which [tax documents show] was 50 percent owned by the princess herself," Carlos Cruzado, a Spanish tax inspector studying the princess' case, told Lauren. "With that ownership comes responsibility for any crimes the company may have committed."
Wednesday's court decision in Palma de Mallorca, after a four-year pre-trial investigation, comes at a critical time for the Spanish monarchy, whose approval ratings have fallen to the lowest levels since the 1970s. In an apparent attempt to counter some of those feelings, King Juan Carlos abdicated and his son, Felipe, was proclaimed king last week.
Juan Carlos himself was criticized after taking an expensive elephant-hunting trip to Africa in 2012 while his country was grappling with a recession and high unemployment. Juan Carlos and Cristina were not present for Felipe's ascension to the throne.
If found guilty, Cristina could face up to 11 years in prison. She and her husband have denied any wrongdoing, and their attorneys said they would appeal the latest ruling. Reuters reports:
"In his 167-page ruling, Palma Examining Magistrate Jose Castro — who has a dual role as prosecutor and judge — said there was evidence that the couple had paid for dozens of personal items - from parking tickets to children's birthday parties to a trip to Rio de Janeiro — out of a shell company he said was used to launder proceeds from the Noos Foundation."
Even if Wednesday's ruling stands on appeal, it could take months for the case to go to trial.
The royal palace said in a statement that it had "full respect for the independence of the judiciary."