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Spanish duke quizzed in corruption probe for second day

Published on 26/02/2012

Spanish King Juan Carlos's son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin was questioned Sunday in court for the second day in a corruption case that has rocked the royal family.

The 44-year-old former Olympic handball player, who acquired the title of Duke of Palma when he married the king’s youngest daughter Cristina in 1997, is suspected of embezzling public money paid to a charity under his control.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

Urdangarin, who wore a blue suit and green tie, briefly greeted reporters as he arrived by foot at the court in Palma on the island of Majorca accompanied by his lawyer but made no statement.

“I am appearing today to demonstrate my innocence,” he said Saturday when he arrived at the court for his first day of questioning as about 200 protesters yelled and jeered.

“I have carried out my responsibilities and taken decisions correctly and with total transparency. My intention today is to clarify the truth of what happened. I am convinced that my declaration today will help to do so.”

Urdangarin is suspected of having siphoned off money paid by regional governments to the Noos Institute, a charitable organisation he chaired from 2004 to 2006, for staging sporting events and conferences to several companies under his control.

During Saturday’s closed-door hearing, investigating judge Jose Castro’s questions to the duke focused on the workings of companies involved in the case, said a court official who asked not to be named.

The duke made clear during his testimony on Saturday that his wife had nothing to do with his business dealings, the duke’s lawyer Mario Pascual Vive said.

“He continues to state this and I understand that this was made clear,” he told reporters outside the courthouse on Sunday.

The case implicating Urdangarin is the first major scandal to touch Juan Carlos’s family.

The king is credited with guiding Spain to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and is widely respected but the affair has raised indignation at a time when Spaniards are suffering the effects of tough spending cuts and an unemployment rate of nearly 23 percent.

The majority of Spaniards, 61.1 percent, believe the duke is guilty, according to a Sigma Dos poll made public Saturday by private television Telecinco. Only 7.4 percent feel he is innocent with the rest undecided.

The poll also found that a significant number of Spaniards, 43.7 percent, believe the scandal puts the survival of the monarchy in Spain at risk.

Juan Carlos has sought to distance himself from the affair and in December the royal family suspended Urdangarin from official engagements.

But late last year the palace confirmed reports that the king in 2006 ordered Urdangarin to step down from his job at the Noos Institute, leading some to question the monarch’s handling of the case.

“Juan Carlos, if you knew why did you keep quiet?,” read one sign on display at the protest held outside the court on Saturday.

The court hearings are part of a preliminary investigation into the case, in which Urdangarin is a suspect along with former associates.

Once the judge has finished questioning all the witnesses and suspects in the case, he will decide whether to order a trial and charge the suspects, or drop the case. The judge has not indicated when he will wrap up questioning.

Since 2009 the duke, his wife and their four children have lived in Washington, DC, where he works for the Spanish telecoms firm Telefonica.