Spain king's son-in-law protects royals in scandal

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Spanish King Juan Carlos's son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin moved on Saturday to distance the royal family from a corruption scandal that has struck at the heart of the palace.

Urdangarin was questioned by a judge on the island of Majorca over allegations that he embezzled millions of euros of public money paid to Noos, a charity he managed.

"The royal family did not give its opinion on, advise or authorise the activities of Noos," Urdangarin told the judge Saturday, according to a copy of his declaration published by Spanish media.

Urdangarin's former business partner Diego Torres last weekend reportedly told the judge that the palace oversaw the activities of the company, from which Urdangarin quit as chairman in 2006.

When the palace learned of allegations against public companies that had worked with Noos, he added, it "recommended that I give up an activity that it considered inappropriate for my institutional status, and that is what I did."

Urdangarin and Torres are suspected of syphoning off money paid by regional governments to the Noos Institute to stage sports and tourism events.

Both men have denied any wrongdoing and have not been charged with any crime. The judge is investigating the case with a view to possibly putting them on trial.

Carlos Garcia Revenga, longtime secretary of Urdangarin's wife, the king's youngest daughter Cristina, was also due to be questioned on Saturday by Jose Castro.

Urdangarin made no comment to reporters when he arrived at court with his lawyer for the closed-door hearing.

A crowd of protestors massed nearby yelling in rage at the alleged corruption, which has fanned public anger at a time of economic hardship.

Juan Carlos has enjoyed widespread respect for helping guide Spain to democracy in the 1970s.

He has distanced the palace from Urdangarin since the scandal erupted at the end of 2011.

Spanish newspapers citing unnamed sources in the case said Torres named Cristina as a decision-maker in the running of Noos.

He reportedly handed the judge emails which appeared to indicate that the king backed and closely followed his business career.

The emails have reportedly been added to the investigating judge's file.

Garcia will be questioned about his role at the Noos Institute and "his possible work as an advisor" to Urdangarin, a court source said.

As Spain grapples with a record unemployment rate of 26 percent and government spending cuts, the allegations of corruption have taken their toll on the monarchy.

General support for having a monarchy in Spain fell to a historic low of 54 percent, according to a poll published last month in daily newspaper El Mundo.

This month the court in Palma de Majorca said it would begin freezing assets belonging to Urdangarin and Torres after they missed a deadline to pay bail of 8.2 million euros ($11.1 million).

Since the bail was applied in a civil case the two will not go to jail for not paying the sum.

Urdangarin, a 45-year-old former Olympic handball champion, acquired the title of Duke of Palma when he wed Cristina in 1997.

On top of the corruption scandal, King Juan Carlos, 75, has seen his health suffer in recent years.

The palace announced that the king will have surgery for a slipped disc on March 3 at a Madrid clinic -- his seventh operation in three years.

The royal palace on Friday said the king was not planning to abdicate despite a press report to that effect and calls by several regional politicians for him to step aside for his son Felipe, 45.

© 2013 AFP

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