Duke of Palma: Olympic glory to royal embarrassment

24th February 2012, Comments 2 comments

A tall and dapper duke with two Olympic medals to his name, Inaki Urdangarin turned from ideal son-in-law to the black sheep of Spain's royal family when he landed in court in a corruption case.

When Urdangarin, 44, met Spanish King Juan Carlos's youngest daughter Cristina in the late 1990s, he charmed not only her but her family and much of the public.

Centre-left newspaper El Pais dubbed him "The perfect boy".

"His friends and teammates sing his praises when they talk about him. If half of what they say is true, Cristina has made a good choice," it wrote.

"Inaki is a good, good, very good man," his mother-in-law Queen Sofia was quoted as saying in 2008 by a journalist specialising in Spanish royal affairs, Pilar Urbano.

Sofia described him as "a kind man, courteous, well mannered and what's more very lively, cheerful and dynamic".

Urbano said: "This is the image we Spaniards have all had, of an Olympic lad, clean, impeccable, good-looking, young, very in love with Cristina and a very good father."

The queen's praise betrayed no hint of the scandal that was brewing and erupted last year, threatening the royal family's popularity.

Urdangarin was born on January 15, 1968, in the Spanish Basque Country, the second-youngest of seven children, to a Spanish father and Belgian mother. He grew up mainly in Barcelona.

After winning bronze medals in Spain's handball team at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, Urdangarin became the Duke of Palma -- on the Balearic island of Mallorca -- on marrying Cristina in 1997.

They lived in Barcelona following their marriage and had four children who likewise charmed the press.

After marrying into the royal family, Urdangarin retired from professional handball and went into business.

A whiff of scandal in 2004, when the couple reportedly spent some 6.0 million euros ($8.0 million) on a luxury house, soon dissipated in Spain, where King Juan Carlos's family is generally handled gently by the media.

But the same year Urdangarin become chairman of the organisation at the heart of the current scandal -- the Noos Institute, a non-profit group he headed from 2004 to 2006.

In the case currently under investigation, Urdangarin and former associates are suspected of siphoning off money paid by regional governments to the Noos Institute for staging sporting events and conferences.

The duke denies any wrongdoing, but the scandal has led to a spectacular fall from grace.

The king has sought to distance himself from the affair. On December 12, the royal family suspended the duke from official engagements.

Madrid's waxwork museum has removed the duke's 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.

The cheerful pictures of him and his family that once lit up Spain's celebrity press have been replaced by paparazzi snaps of him in the streets of the city, athletically sprinting away from the cameras.

© 2012 AFP

2 Comments To This Article

  • LOYALISTBRIT posted:

    on 1st March 2012, 06:35:01 - Reply

    Old world, charming, well-mannerd describes Spain, corruption is implicit in republican countries, especially new ones- the Congo, USA etc. Think Banks, Presidents and "Administrations" and you have corrupt. Spain has traditional Courts, who are dealing with this matter (without shedding blood or torturing). Name one other case of corruption in a Royal Family, I'll give you 10 presidents per Royal.
    It's about breeding, old chap!
  • republican posted:

    on 29th February 2012, 11:32:33 - Reply

    What else is there to say?? Like this third world country ( or third world EU countries, if you will) don´t have enough problems to deal with. Can´t say I´m surprised though...all these middle age royal families are doing it, so why not this one! Shocking...NOT!