An investigative judge named the youngest daughter of King Juan Carlos as a suspect in a criminal case, a move unprecedented in modern history against a member of Spain’s royal family and the latest embarrassment for the country’s political and economic elite.
The princess’s husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, is already under investigation on suspicion of having diverted millions of euros in public funds destined for his not-for-profit sports-events consultancy, Instituto Nóos, to for-profit companies controlled by him and his associates. In court documents released Wednesday, Judge José Castro said that Princess Cristina de Borbón, a Nóos board member, will be called to testify on April 27 as a suspected accomplice.
Spain’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor, Antonio Salinas Casado, said he would appeal the decision, the state-owned news agency EFE reported, a reflection of the government’s desire to insulate the royal family from the case.
The judge, who sits in the Balearic Islands, named the princess as a suspect after Manos Limpias, a civil servants’ union, asked him do so. Manos Limpias, or Clean Hands, is acting as a private plaintiff in the case, a status permitted by Spanish law. The judge is expected to decide by summer whether to press criminal charges or drop the case against the couple.
A spokesman for the monarchy said the royal family was surprised by the judge’s decision and lauded the anti-corruption prosecutor’s announcement about appealing it.
An attorney for Mr. Urdangarin has said his client is innocent.
The 47-year-old princess’s involvement in the case is the latest twist in a scandal that has depressed the king’s standing. Calls are growing for Juan Carlos—the long-popular monarch who steered Spain to democracy in the late 1970s after four decades of dictatorship—to abdicate in favor of his son, Felipe, Cristina’s younger brother. In Spain the case has shared headlines with investigations into alleged corrupt practices by the country’s two largest poltical parties.
“Naming the princess as a suspect … will give her the chance to explain herself,” said Virginia López-Negrete, a lawyer for Manos Limpias. She said the case helps show Spanish society that no one is above the law.
The judge had initially rejected the civil servants union’s request to have the princess named as a suspect. In the documents released Wednesday, he said new evidence gave grounds for suspecting that she should have known about her husband’s business activities.
Ms. López-Negrete, citing the new evidence, said her union had also asked the judge to expand the case to once again include a top official at the country’s second-largest bank, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, BBVA.MC -2.64% for suspected collusion with Nóos’s actvitities. The judge had dropped the name of the official, Antonio Ballabriga, from the case last year.
Paul Tobin, a spokesman for BBVA, said, “The judge already looked into this and cleared Mr. Ballabriga.”
Corruption allegations are a major irritant to Spaniards as they endure a prolonged recession and unemployment that exceeds 26%. Opinion polls show that combined support for the top two parties, the governing Popular Party and the Socialists, is at its lowest level since the 1970s.
In October 2011, the approval rating Spaniards gave the monarchy fell below 50% for the first time in government surveys.
Members of Manos Limpias said the governing party last year tried to push the union away from the case, to make it easier to close and minimize embarrassment to the king. A party spokeswoman said that wasn’t true.
Government officials hold the 75-year-old king in high regard. His role in Spain goes well beyond that of the largely ceremonial position held by heads of state in other European republics, including former monarchies such as Germany. For example, he was instrumental in opening markets for Spanish companies in Saudi Arabia.
“The king has enormous prestige in Europe and elsewhere,” said Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo in comments before the princess was named a suspect. “He’s an asset that the government never hesitates to use.”