It’s carnival season here. I don’t mean the pre-Lent boozy processions. I mean that the Spanish courts are hosting a carnival – an on-going circus, to be frank – almost a total ‘masquerade’. At least it seems like it.
This week, Iñaki Urdangarin, the brother-in-law to King Felipe VI of Spain, was found guilty of embezzlement, fraud, ‘influence peddling’ and tax crimes by the provincial court of Palma de Mallorca, in what became known as the ‘Nóos’ trial. He’s been sentenced to six years and three months in jail. The sentence may be appealed before the Supreme Court.
The Nóos Institute was set up by Iñaki Urdangarin and his former business partner, Diego Torres (himself sentenced to eight years), as a non-profit foundation specialising in sport and leisure events. Between 2004 and 2006, they fraudulently obtained inflated contracts worth over €6 million from the Balearic Islands government, secured without public tenders. The money was then funnelled out of Nóos’ accounts and into their own pockets via a series of shell companies.
Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball player, allegedly leveraged his position as a member of the royal family to open doors within regional government structures. His wife, the princess Cristina de Borbón, was acquitted (of course) of tax fraud complicity, although she still has to pay a fine of €265,088 for benefitting, ‘indirectly’ and ‘unknowingly’, from illegal gains.
The verdict was delivered more than a year after the trial had begun in Mallorca. Cristina is now back in Geneva, where she and her husband were sent (with their four children) in 2013, primarily to be kept out of the spotlight, but where she now also does something or other for the Aga Khan Foundation. Felipe VI of Spain removed Cristina and his other sister from royal duties when he became king, and he also stripped Cristina of her ‘Duchess of Palma’ title once she prepared to face trial.
Iñaki Urdangarin, believe it or not, is also back in Geneva – at least for now. In fact he was in Geneva whilst the courtroom in Mallorca delivered its verdict. Confusingly, prosecutors had originally asked for a 19-year prison term for Urdangarin, but he’s now being allowed to remain in Switzerland, instructed to present himself before the relevant authorities there just ‘once a month’, and he’s also been ordered to keep everyone aware (ie, the court) of any movements he might make ‘outside of the European Union.’ No mention has been made that Switzerland is not actually part of the European Union, or the fact that Urdangarin is a Spaniard living there only because of a personal and (royal) family decision. But there you go. Until the Supreme Court ratifies the sentence (or it is appealed), he will remain free, and he will remain in Geneva. Silly not to.
The shabby and somewhat controversial handling of the Nóos case, however, has a more worrying backdrop to it all. The public prosecution service in Spain is fast becoming an object of mistrust, given the constant suspicions of ‘pressures’, ‘interference’, and of the central government’s influence in the Spanish judiciary system, particularly across the regions and provinces of Spain. Most recently, the outgoing chief prosecutor in the region of Murcia, Manuel López Bernal, has spoken out about ‘intimidation’. Bernal is being relieved of his post, after complaining about ‘intolerable’ pressures. Suffice to say he’s just been investigating a corruption case involving the Murcia president for alleged crimes in the construction of a local auditorium …
Meanwhile in Barcelona, the ‘politicalization of justice’ rolls on relentlessly. The Parliament’s President, Carme Forcadell, and three members of the Parliament’s Bureau have been accused of ‘disobedience and perversion of justice’ by Catalonia’s Public Prosecutor for allowing the referendum’s proposal to be put to the vote. Actions have now been brought against Anna Simó, Lluis Corominas and Ramona Barrufet, all from the governing cross-party Junts Pel Sí but not against Joan Josep Nuet, from the left alliance Catalunya Sí que es Pot (don’t ask), even though he’s also part of the Bureau. Why? The Public Prosecutor considers that Nuet didn’t aim to launch any ‘political project which disrespects the Constitution of the 1978’ … but presumably the others did, therefore. So there you have it, in black and white.