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Spanish king’s son-in-law to be questioned by judge

King Juan Carlos’ son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin will be questioned by a judge Saturday over corruption allegations in a scandal which has rocked the Spanish royal family and threatens its popularity.

The former Olympic handball player, who is married to the king’s youngest daughter Princess Cristina, is at the centre of a probe into the alleged embezzlement of public funds from the non-profit Noos Institute which he headed between 2004 and 2006.

The Balearic Islands superior court of justice formally named the tall and elegant 44-year-old as a suspect in the case in late December and ordered him to appear in court for questioning in a huge embarrassment for the monarchy.

Urdangarin and several former associates are suspected of having siphoned off money paid by regional governments to the Noos Institute, for staging sporting events and conferences, to companies under their control.

The case is part of a broader corruption investigation involving the regional government of the Balearic Islands, where the institute is based.

State prosecutors are investigating suspected forgery, perversion of the course of justice, fraud and embezzlement of public funds, according to the search warrant issued for the Noos Institute last year.

The exact amount of money involved is not known.

But according to Eduardo Inda, a journalist with daily newspaper El Mundo, Urdangarin and his former business partner Diego Torres may have misappropriated around 17 million euros ($22.5 million).

“There is such an accumulation of evidence that under normal conditions I think he would run a serious risk of receiving a long prison sentence,” added Inda.

Urdangarin, who obtained the title of Duke of Palma when he married Cristina in 1997, has denied any wrongdoing.

“If he made mistakes, as all citizens do, I would call them administrative mistakes,” Urdangarin’s lawyer Mario Pascual Vives said Monday, adding his client would face his court appearance with “courage, firmness and sincerity”.

King Juan Carlos, 74, is credited with guiding Spain to democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and is widely respected, but the scandal has caused anger in a country grappling with a jobless rate of almost 23 percent.

“It is a worrying situation which has created a malaise, a sense of social alarm, because it concerns the country’s top institution, the monarchy,” said Pilar Urbano, who has written several biographies on the royals.

The king has sought to distance himself from the affair.

On December 12, the royal family suspended the duke from official engagements, a move backed by 89 percent of Spaniards according to a poll published in daily newspaper El Pais a week later.

Later that month the palace for the first time made public the details of the stipend the royal family receives from the national budget which showed the king received a salary, expenses included, of 292,752 euros in 2011.

Late last year it emerged that the king in 2006 ordered Urdangarin to step down from his job at the Noos Institute.

The scandal has led to a spectacular fall from grace for the duke, who won two bronze medals for Spain at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.

Madrid’s wax museum has removed his statue from its usual location among the rest of the Spanish royals to the sports hall.

Since 2009 the duke has lived with his wife and their four children in Washington, DC, where he works for Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica in what some in the Spanish media have said is a form of “exile”.

Urbano said Queen Sofia told her in 2008 that Urdangarin is a “good, good, good, very good man. An attentive man, polite, well bred.”

“That is the image that all Spaniards had of him, that of an Olympic athlete, alert, well groomed, transparent, good-looking, young and very much in love with Princess Cristina and a good father,” added Urbano.

The affair has also raised questions about what Princess Cristina, a discreet 46-year-old blonde, knew about her husband’s business dealings.

A right-wing group called “Clean Hands” is pushing for the court to also question the princess.

“It is possible that Princess Cristina did not know anything. But the increase in his personal fortune can’t have been ignored by a wife that is very close to her husband,” said Urbano.