​Spain's Princess Cristina testifies in embezzlement case

In this Feb. 8, 2014 file photo, Spain's Princess Cristina arrives at the courthouse in Palma de Mallorca, Spain after being named as a fraud and money laundering suspect.
AP

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain -- Spain's Princess Cristina testified Thursday at her tax fraud trialthat her husband handled all bill payments for the couple and she didn't know why some costs for their lavish lifestyle were paid for with a credit card for a company they co-owned.

Cristina spent 20 minutes answering questions from her lawyer after declining to take questions from an attorney with the anti-corruption group that leveled tax fraud charges against her.

The princess testified she never asked her husband Inaki Urdangarin about the business dealings of the Aizoon company he ran from an office in the Barcelona mansion that they lived in for years with their four children but were forced to sell as their legal troubles mounted.

Asked by her lawyer why she never talked with her husband about what the company did, Cristina responded that "they weren't issues that interested me. At that time my children were very small and we were very busy."

"He was in charge of the family expenses. I didn't get involved in that," she added.

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In this April 5, 2013 file photo, Spain's Princess Cristina is photographed as she walks toward her office in Barcelona, Spain. The 50-year-old princess and her husband are set to face anti-monarchy protesters and hordes of media Monday, Jan. 11, 2016 as they enter a makeshift courtroom and she makes history in front of millions of Spanish TV viewers as the first royal family member to face criminal charges since the monarchy was restored in 1975.
AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

The case centers on accusations that Urdangarin used his former title of Duke of Palma to embezzle about 6 million euros ($6.6 million) in public funds for the nonprofit Noos Institute he ran with a partner that put on sport conferences. Seventeen people are charged, including Urdangarin and the princess.

Immediately after taking the stand, Cristina invoked her right to answer only questions posed by her own lawyer and sat silently before the three-judge panel in Palma de Mallorca, listening but not responding to questions posed by a lawyer for the group that leveled the tax fraud charges.

The judges will weigh whether the couple criminally abused the Aizoon real estate consulting firm described in court papers as a "front company" to fund luxury vacations, throw parties at the modernist mansion and pay for salsa dancing classes.

Her appearance came after Urdangarin, wrapped up three days of testimony and was unable to explain in court how personal expenses such as safari trips and wine for him and his wife were billed to the Aizoon credit card.

But Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball medalist-turned-entrepreneur, still insisted he never knew he might have been doing anything questionable.

Christina faces two counts of tax fraud, each carrying a maximum jail sentence of four years. She is the first member of Spain's royal family to face criminal charges since the monarchy was restored in 1975. Urdangarin faces stiffer charges and a possible jail sentence of nearly 20 years.

Prosecutors had recommended not charging the princess, saying she should face an administrative fine at most.

But under Spanish law, groups like the Manos Limpias (Clean Hands) organization involved in the princess' trial can pursue criminal charges against people when authorities decide not to do so.

Urdangarin testified that his wife never used the Aizoon credit but that he and other people did, passing the bills to his secretary at the firm, which has been labeled a "front company" in court documents.

File photo shows Spain's Princess Cristina and her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin and their family at funeral of his father in May 2012
File photo shows Spain's Princess Cristina and her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin and their family at funeral of his father in May 2012
Vincent West, Reuters

An investigative judge found that the couple never reported as income personal expenses billed to the company, but Urdangarin testified he relied on the advice of others for determining which expenses should be charged to Aizoon.

"I have never been aware of committing any tax offense because I had my advisers who told me everything was correct," Urdangarin said.

The expenses charged to Aizoon cited in court included 15,797 euros ($17,174) for a safari trip to Africa, 6,672 euros for a coaching course for Cristina and 1,357 euros for wine.

Urdangarin said he had made Cristina a co-director of Aizoon because he wanted her to be part of the business project but also insisted "she didn't have anything to do with the company's activities."

Urdangarin testified Wednesday that palace officials who worked for former King Juan Carlos oversaw the princess' tax filings and had detailed knowledge of his business operations.

Cristina is the sister of King Felipe VI, who took power in 2014 after his father abdicated.

Legal experts say Cristina's defense relies on her convincing the judges that she knew nothing about her husband's business activities.

Testimony by the defendants ended Thursday night but the judges are expected to hear months more testimony from other witnesses and experts.

Cristina won't have to appear in court again until there is a verdict, which isn't expected until sometime over the summer.