Source: USA TODAY
BARCELONA — The former treasurer of Spain’s ruling party – indicted. The former head of the country’s Supreme Court – resigning in disgrace.
These are a few of the 1,600 cases involving embezzlement, tax evasion, kickbacks and Swiss bank accounts by high-level officials that have hit the desks of prosecutors since the euro crisis began five years ago and devastated Spain.
But the scandal being talked about around Spanish water coolers and in cafes and bars is a case that could land a Spanish princess in jail and topple the Spanish monarchy.
Last month, Princess Cristina was indicted on charges of complicity in fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and embezzlement, the first member of a European royal family to be charged in a serious crime in centuries.
The principal case revolves around her husband, Duke of Palma Iñaki Urdangarin, who is accused of fraud, tax evasion, forgery and the embezzlement of $7.8 million from regional governments through inflated contracts via their non-profit organization, Institute Noos.
“I believe the monarchy is going to fall more quickly than we can establish a new political system,” said Antonio Rubio, leader of the Spanish Towns Network for the Third Republic, an association that represents 40 local governments and more than 2,000 public officials who want to see King Juan Carlos lose his crown.
Judge Jose Castro oversaw the indictment of the princess, saying she gave her consent to her husband’s shady deals, according to court documents. A specially appointed anti-corruption prosecutor asked that the indictments be dropped. In a preliminary judgment, an appeals court ruled May 7 to dismiss the case though Castro is likely to pursue another indictment.
While the nation wonders what happens next, the criminal prosecution of members of the royal family comes as the economy continues to contract and unemployment rises. Spain has been in recession for more than two years. The Noos case has been particularly hard to digest for Spaniards in light of skyrocketing unemployment – 27% and almost double that for youth – and tough cuts to social benefits.
All this is causing the severest political crisis since dictator Francisco Franco died and democracy was restored in 1978.
This scandal follows on the heels of another that hit the royal family: Last year, the 75-year-old king went on a secret luxury elephant hunting trip to Botswana that came to the public’s attention after he broke his hip in a fall. He made a public apology for the first time in his 38-year reign.
Since then, the royal family has lost public support: According to a recent poll by the Center for Sociological Research, 41% of Spaniards no longer support the once-revered monarchy.
“The Spanish monarchy, with all their corruption and blunders, has provided the impetus for many to now support the establishment of a pure republic,” Rubio said. “I’m surprised by the speed with which the Spanish Royal House has lost support.”
For 30 years, King Juan Carlos was highly regarded by Spaniards, even though it was dictator Franco who restored the monarchy in 1975. During a coup in 1981, Carlos defended the elected government against the military.
In an effort to save the monarchy, many want Juan Carlos to step down in favor of his son Prince Felipe.
“I believe King Juan Carlos should abdicate … before the situation gets uglier or his health deteriorates,” said Julian Casanova, professor of contemporary history at the University of Zaragoza. “But I wonder whether Spaniards are going to accept Prince Felipe.”
“If King Juan Carlos would hand over power to his son now, that would make things more difficult for the new king,” said Jose Apezarena, author of several books on the royal family. “It is more logical that he tries to solve these problems and calm the situation. If anyone has to carry the weight that comes with the popular outrage over the royal family, it must be King Juan Carlos.”
The two largest national political parties in Madrid, the conservative Popular Party and the center-left Socialist Party, are trying to save the king. Even so, increasing numbers of prominent politicians, as well as the media, have spoken out on the royal family, a topic that was largely taboo for decades. Tens of thousands of people rallied in Madrid in mid-April to show their support of establishing a republic.
“It would be logical to call a referendum before the coronation of Felipe VI so that the people can decide democratically and freely what kind of political model we want,” said Miky Corregidor, 38, a sound engineer from Girona in Catalonia in the northwest.
“We cannot talk about a democracy when the head of state cannot be chosen and cannot be changed (by popular will),” he said, referring to the fact that the monarch is the top representative of the state but not the government. “Moreover, the fact that someone has all these privileges (such as immunity from prosecution) is incompatible with the notion of equality among Spaniards.”
Javier de Léon, 25, an administrative assistant from the Spanish Canary Islands, is a fierce supporter of King Carlos because he is the “country’s best ambassador.” Yet he agrees that Spaniards should have a say in when he takes off his crown.
“The day he dies or isn’t fit to continue, there should be a referendum to know whether Spaniards still support monarchy in Spain,” he said.
Others said the monarchy could linger on, and with it chaos and crisis.
“I think the current crisis of the monarchy will endure, and I have doubts there will be a new republic,” Casanova said. “So, with a dying system and the lack of an alternative, there will only be one crisis after another.”