Juan Carlos’s bad year

His well-documented health problems pale in comparison to an intensifying corruption scandal centred on his son-in-law

Juan Carlos’s bad year

EPA/Keystone Press

This hasn’t been King Juan Carlos’s year. Since June, the Spanish monarch has had his right knee replaced, had surgery on his left Achilles, and suffered a black eye and injured nose after colliding with a door. However, all those health problems pale in comparison to an intensifying corruption scandal centred on his son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, that threatens to damage the monarchy itself.

Urdangarin is under investigation for allegedly siphoning millions from his non-profit foundation, the Nóos Institute, into private companies under his control. An Olympic handball player before being elevated to duke of Palma when he married the king’s younger daughter Infanta Cristina in 1997, Urdangarin headed the foundation from 2004 to 2006. As well, leaks from the prosecutor’s office in Palma, the capital of the Balearic Islands, state the institute charged inflated fees and prices on big public contracts to organize events in the region. Police have raided Urdangarin’s offices and removed documents. He’s expected to be named a formal suspect within weeks, with charges coming later.

Urdangarin broke his silence this week, telling the news agency EFE, “I deeply regret that [the accusations] are causing serious damage to the image of my family and the house of his majesty the king, who have nothing to do with my private activities.” His lawyer says “he is fully innocent.”

As the scandal grows, the royal family’s popularity has plunged to under 50 per cent for the first time. To limit the damage, palace officials floated the idea of limiting the royal family to just those in direct line to the throne, meaning Cristina and her older sister Elena would be stripped of official duties and stipends. Then, apparently after a dressing down by the king, they backpedalled, saying they “had nothing to do” with determining the official size of the family. Still, in a PR move, the family will finally publish details of how their $11-million budget is spent.

There is support for Urdangarin—Queen Sofia made sure she was photographed with Cristina and her husband during a private visit to the couple’s home in Washington, where he works for a Spanish phone company. Yet the king and son Felipe are said to be exasperated with the duke, who is persona non grata at official functions until further notice. And that could mean a tense Christmas dinner at the palace.

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