Nóos case

Infanta Cristina acquitted in Nóos case, king’s brother-in-law given six years

Sentence for Iñaki Urdangarin concludes unprecedented six-month court proceedings, which saw a member of the Spanish royal family brought to trial for the first time

King Felipe’s brother-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, pictured in Mallorca in this file photo.
King Felipe’s brother-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, pictured in Mallorca in this file photo.David Ramos (Getty)
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Spanish king’s brother-in-law avoids preventive detention in fraud case

Cristina de Borbón, sister of Spanish King Felipe VI, has been acquitted of tax fraud complicity in a high-profile corruption trial known as the Nóos case.

Her husband Iñaki Urdangarin, considered one of the masterminds behind a scheme that obtained no-bid contracts from regional governments, has been sentenced to six years and three months in prison.

He has been found guilty of embezzlement, fraud, influence peddling and tax crimes. The court has also demanded that he pay a €512,000 fine.

Infanta Cristina arrives at court on February 8, 2014.
Infanta Cristina arrives at court on February 8, 2014.Uly Martín

His business partner Diego Torres has been sentenced to eight years and six months in prison, and a €1,723,843.10 fine for his role in creating the Nóos Institute, a non-profit foundation that served as a recipient of government contracts that were secured without public tenders, thanks to Urdangarin’s influence as a member of the royal family.

The court also found that Diego Torres, who evaded over €120,000 by filing personal income as corporate earnings, used “an international network of companies based in Belize and the United Kingdom to conceal the evaded amounts, transform them, and return them to legal circulation through successive fund transfers that ended up in accounts in his name.”

Although Cristina de Borbón has been cleared of the criminal charges against her, she will have to pay a fine of €265,088 for her role in the scheme. The royal was never charged by either public prosecutors or tax authorities, but rather on the basis of a private prosecution.

Another leading defendant in the case, former Balearics premier Jaume Matas, has been sentenced to three years and eight months in prison for fraud and for deliberately making unlawful decisions while an elected official. He is barred from holding office again for the next seven years.

The court found that Matas issued orders to arbitrarily hire the services of Instituto Nóos due to “the influence exercised by Mr Ignacio Urdangarin,” who was working in partnership with Diego Torres.

The youngest of Felipe VI’s two sisters had been charged with two counts of tax fraud

The sentence may be appealed before the Supreme Court.

Sources at La Zarzuela, the Spanish royal residence, expressed “absolute respect for the independence of the judiciary.” King Felipe VI, who was visiting the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid at the time of the verdict, declined to comment on the ruling that affects the youngest of his two sisters.

Miquel Roca, the defense lawyer for Cristina de Borbón, says his client is “satisfied that her innocence has been acknowledged” but that she “remains convinced about her husband’s innocence.”

The Provincial Court of Palma de Mallorca, presided by Judge Samantha Romero, had worked for nearly eight months to produce one of the most highly awaited judgments of the last few years.

The trial itself ended on June 22, 2016 after 61 sessions that began on January 11.

There was heavy media coverage of the six-month-long court proceedings, as this is the first time that a member of the Spanish royal family has been brought to trial.

While Cristina de Borbón’s role was always considered minor, her husband, former Olympic handball player Iñaki Urdangarin, was slapped with a long list of charges that included embezzlement, document forgery and money laundering. Prosecutors had asked for a 19-year prison term.

Urdangarin and Torres headed a network that siphoned off €4.5 million

Urdangarin and his former business partner Diego Torres were behind a scheme that secured over €6 million in public contracts won for organizing sports and tourism events. Prosecutors had asked that Torres serve 16.5 years for his role in the case.

The contracts were obtained through no-bid awards that favored a non-profit foundation called Instituto Nóos, run by the partners. Urdangarin allegedly leveraged his position as a member of the royal family to open doors within regional government structures.

Former Balearic Island premier Jaume Matas has admitted that he gave orders to arbitrarily hire Urdangarin’s company, describing the latter’s role as “a facilitator.” At the time, Juan Carlos was still king of Spain.

Anti-corruption prosecutor Pedro Horrach said that Instituto Nóos received €2.5 million from the regional government of the Balearic Islands, €3.5 million from the regional government of Valencia, and €114,000 from the City of Madrid for event organization between 2003 and 2006.

Urdangarin was also involved in Madrid’s failed Olympic bid.

Cristina de Borbón’s involvement stemmed from the fact that she sat on the board of Aizoon, a company that she and her husband administrated and that channeled some of the Nóos funds.Aizoon had no known activity.

The sentence may be appealed before the Supreme Court

Cristina allegedly used an Aizoon credit card to make personal purchases – including dance lessons and children’s clothing – then claimed tax deductions on her 2007 and 2008 filings.

The charges against the king’s sister were not brought by state prosecutors or by tax authorities, but by a private prosecution by a far-right anti-corruption group called Manos Limpias (Clean Hands), which has since been dismantled after its leader Miguel Bernad was arrested. Investigators found that Bernad had tried to extort the royal’s defense lawyers for a €3 million payment in exchange for dropping the charges against her.

The case further damaged the royal family's image and is thought to be partly the cause of Juan Carlos' decision to abdicate the throne in June 2014 in favor of his son Felipe.

The Nóos case, while large in itself, is merely an offshoot of a much wider probe into the construction of a sports arena in Palma de Mallorca that has already resulted in a criminal conviction for Jaume Matas.

The Palma Arena case, which put the spotlight on political corruption in the popular Mediterranean island archipelago, has been broken down into 28 separate sections, of which Nóos is the 25th.

The story of graft and patronage in the Balearics feeds into other high-profile corruption cases in Spain, among them Gürtel, whose leaders were recently sent to prison for bribing officials in Valencia in exchange for government contracts.

English version by Susana Urra.

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