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Princess Scandal Shakes Spain's Support For Its Monarchy



That's the sound of protesters outside a courtroom in Spain where Princess Christina, the youngest daughter of the king of Spain is testifying before judges. She's accused of committing tax fraud and money laundering. She could face jail time. This is the first time a Spanish royal has ever been named a suspect in a criminal case and it's shaking the support of Spaniards for their monarchy. Lauren Frayer has been following this story and joins us from Madrid. Lauren, thanks for being with us.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: So what's the scene like today?

FRAYER: Well, the princess was chauffeured up to the courtroom side door and then walked just a few steps into the court. She was jeered by protesters yelling the judge's name, Castro, which is what you'll hear in that clip there. About 200 protesters with banners against corruption, against the monarchy, calling for the princess to relinquish her title and for the king to abdicate.

SIMON: Lauren, sketch this case out for us, if you could. What are the princess and her husband accused of doing?

FRAYER: Well, the Princess Infanta Cristina is King Juan Carlos' youngest daughter. She's 48. She and her husband had sort of a fairytale love story. They used to be popular in the glossy magazines here. Her husband is the Duke Inaki Urdangarin. He started a nonprofit foundation organizing sports conventions and it's through that foundation that he and a colleague are accused of embezzling $8 million.

Prosecutors believe they did so by creating shell companies. Now, where the princess comes in is that for at least one of those shell companies she was a co-signer and co-owner. So any fraud committed by that company, she would be 50 percent responsible. Now, that's the money laundering charge. The tax fraud involves the couple's personal expenses, everything from renovations on their $8 million mansion in Barcelona, vacations, down to small things like Harry Potter books for their kids, which were allegedly paid for through these shell companies and on which they allegedly did not pay tax.

This hearing today is similar to what, in the U.S., we would call a Grand Jury proceeding. So the judges are trying to determine whether to formally charge the princess. And if they do so, she'll then go on trial. The process is underway as well for her husband, the Duke, and both face up to six years in prison if charged and convicted.

SIMON: Lauren, can you help us appreciate the reaction of the Spanish public at this point?

FRAYER: Well, the Spanish public has not looked favorably, perhaps unsurprisingly, on this investigation. The royal family's approval ratings are at record lows. King Juan Carlos is 76 years old. He's been in and out of hospitals for the past few years and the most infamous health scare he had was two years ago when he broke his hip while on a very expensive elephant hunting trip in Africa.

The public only found out about his safari when he broke his hip and had to be flown home to Spain. The trip cost several times the average Spaniard's annual salary so that elephant hunt did not go over well here. But in general, this investigation into the princess' finances has served as a sort of reckoning for the country. A few years ago, when Spain's economy was booming, nobody really bothered to examine anyone's finances carefully, from the royals to the construction companies that were building like mad all over Spain to regular people's taxes. And now, everything is being examined and Spaniards are realizing that just like them, even their princess may have been living way beyond her means.

SIMON: Lauren Frayer in Madrid, thanks so much.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.