MADRID – Spain’s Supreme Court ratified on Tuesday a prison sentence that had been handed down to the brother-in-law of King Felipe VI, confirming a regional court’s guilty verdict for various corruption crimes linked to a plot in which he unlawfully derived millions from public funds that were obtained and channeled through supposedly non-profit entities run by him and his business partner.
Although the Supreme Court reduced the sentence originally imposed on Iñaki Urdangarin – husband of the king’s sister, Princess Cristina – by the regional court of Palma in Mallorca, from six years and three months to five years and 10 months, it ratified the guilty verdict on several counts linked to public corruption.
“This court has found that the verdict previously handed down by the court of Palma de Mallorca was just with regards to the crimes of knowingly committing unlawful acts, embezzlement, and fraud,” among other charges, said the unanimous ruling by Judges Manuel Marchena Gomez, president of the bench, Andres Martinez Arrieta, Miguel Colmenero, Juan Ramon Berdugo and Antonio del Moral.
Spain’s Royal Household quickly issued a statement in which it re-affirmed its “absolute respect for the independence of the judiciary.”
However, a final decision on whether or not he is forced to enter prison will depend on the Mallorca court tasked with executing the sentence and, ultimately, on the country’s Constitutional Court, in the event that Urdangarin decides to lodge a last-ditch appeal to the highest tribunal in the land.
Urdangarin was first sentenced on Feb. 17, 2017, but he was allowed to remain free and continue living in a lavish mansion in Switzerland he shared with his wife and children while on parole as long as he appeared in court on the first day of each month while he awaited the results of the appeal he had lodged.
In the first verdict, he had also been found guilty of taking part in the forgery of a public document, a decision that was reversed by the Supreme Court as it determined that there was a lack of sufficient evidence of his involvement in that particular felony, which explains the five-month reduction on his sentence.
The “Noos Case,” as it is popularly known in Spanish media, first arrived at the Supreme Court on July 3, when one of the court’s prosecutors sought a much harsher punishment for Urdangarin, ultimately to no avail.
Urdangarin’s defense counsel then also lodged an appeal against the original ruling and petitioned for the high court to exonerate him, alleging he was a mere mediator lacking knowledge of the law.
“I was simply a friendly fixer,” Urdangarin claimed in his appeal, adding that he was a “mediator without any knowledge of administrative law.”
The former Olympic handball player said he had merely used his contacts in the sports world and institutions so that the region of the Balearic Islands could “hold forums on tourism and sport,” as well as “sponsor the best cycling team in the world.”
“I did this with the awareness that everything was being done correctly and legally,” read the appeal.
Because of this, according to Urdangarin, the Mallorca court’s sentence was based on an “illogical and absurd rationale that lacks the required solidity and reasonability,” adding that the judges’ version of events was “more improbable than probable.”
The appeal also blamed Urdangarin’s ex-partner, Diego Torres, for all the irregularities, saying he bore responsibility for closing the deals.
Torres had been originally sentenced to eight years and six months in prison and fined 1,723,843 euros.
He was found guilty of, among other crimes, defrauding the treasury by illegally transferring hidden income through an international web of shell companies based in the United Kingdom and Belize.
Torres had also lodged his own appeal, in which he insisted that every single activity carried out by the Noos Institute was supervised by the Royal Household.
The latter even controlled Noos’ interns, Torres claimed.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to reduce Torres’ sentence to five years and eight months, a difference of almost three years’ worth of jail time.
On the other hand, the former regional president of the Balearic Islands, Jaume Matas, saw his sentence of three years and eight months in prison for his role in the fraud scheme confirmed by the court.
The Balearic government, then under the control of the conservative Popular Party, had funneled public funds into Urdangarin and his business partner’s supposedly “non-profit” Noos Institute to the tune of 2.3 million euros ($2.72 million).
Urdangarin used his prominent position as the husband of Cristina, a member of the Royal Family among whose titles was that of the Duchess of Palma, to secure public contracts from his acquaintances in various public bodies.
Noos received more than three million euros from the regional government of Valencia and an annual contract worth 120,000 euros from Madrid’s failed bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.
This illicit income allowed Cristina and Urdangarin to bankroll an opulent lifestyle, including owning a large, modern and almost palatial house in an upscale suburb of Barcelona.
Once the case became public, King Felipe decided to strip Urdangarin and Cristina of their royal title of Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, according to a royal decree published June 12, 2015.
The princess, who sat on the accused’s bench alongside her husband was the first member of the royal family to stand trial since Spain was restored to democracy in 1978.
The princess was initially found guilty of civil, not criminal, charges and ordered to pay a fine of 265,088 euros for profiting from the embezzlement and tax fraud perpetrated by her husband, but the Supreme Court reduced the penalty to 136,950 euros.