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Nóos trial kicks off: Infanta Cristina will be first-ever Royal in the dock
OVER five years of investigations later, the infamous Nóos Institute fraud trial has begun in the court of Palma de Mallorca – and will make history when it sees the first-ever member of the Royal family appear in the dock.
King Felipe VI's youngest sister, the Infanta Cristina (pictured right) and her husband Iñaki Urdangarín (pictured left) – stripped of their titles of Duke and Duchess of Palma by the King himself over their alleged involvement in the scandal – are among 18 suspects who will be cross-examined in front of 590 reporters.
They include former Balearic Island regional president and ex-environment minister for the national government, Jaume Matas, who has recently handed over his mansion to the tax authorities to mitigate his liabilities, along with former deputy mayor of Valencia city, Alfonso Grau (PP), former director-general for sports for the Balearic Islands José Luis 'Pepote' Ballester, and Mercedes Coghen, ex-manager of the Madrid 2016 Olympic bid.
Urdangarín's co-director of the Nóos Institute, Diego Torres, his wife Ana María Tejeiro and brother-in-law Miguel Tejeiro, plus the firm's appointed accountant Salvador Trinxet are also among those on trial.
Among the 363 witnesses will be former justice minister and ex-mayor of Madrid Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, former Valencia regional president Francisco Camps, ex-mayoress of Valencia Rita Barberá, disgraced former economy minister Rodrigo Rato – on trial separately for tax evasion – former regional minister for Valencia Esteban González Pons, and ex-secretary of State for sports Jaime Lissavetzky, all of whom are on the PP party.
Other witnesses include former head of the Royal household Alberto Aza, who will testify on March 11 along with Rato, and the ex-secretary of the Infantas Cristina and Elena, Carlos García Revenga, on April 20.
Sra Barberá will testify on April 12, followed by González Pons on April 14 and, the next day, Francisco Camps, whilst Ruiz-Gallardón and Lissavetzky will give statements on May 13.
The trial will take five-and-a-half months and documentary evidence will be examined in June, after all witnesses and suspects have been questioned, and final sentencing will be announced on June 30.
The 76,000-page file, split into 91 folders in 17 cardboard boxes, details the allegations of public fund embezzlement Torres and Urdangarín are accused of, as well as a complex money-laundering racket.
Set up as a non-profit entity aimed at organising sports and cultural events in Valencia and the Balearic Islands, the Nóos Institute is said to have sent 'inflated' invoices for its services to the two regional governments, with the two co-directors pocketing the difference.
To account for the money, Urdangarín invoiced the dormant company Aizóon, S.L. - owned jointly by him and the Infanta Cristina but with no known activity or staff – for his 'consultation services'.
The couple are reported to have offset personal expenses including holidays and domestic employees' wages against their tax duties for Aizóon and the Nóos Institute, allowing them to pay a reduced rate.
Their mansion in Pedralba (Barcelona province) was embargoed and put up for sale for over €6 million, and the Infanta has refunded the money she is said to have deliberately avoided paying the tax authorities.
But in Spain, tax evasion of more than €120,000 is a criminal offence, meaning paying off the debt plus interest is not enough and the offender can be hit with a fine or even prison.
The Infanta Cristina, when she appears in court somewhere between February 9 and 26, will have to swear on oath and testify in the presence of a life-sized photo of her brother, Felipe VI, which presides over the courtroom.
She may, however, still avoid having to stand in the dock in person under the so-called 'Botín Doctrine' – the only formal accusation against her is a private prosecution brought by the anti-corruption association Manos Limpias ('clean hands'), and if the doctrine is applied, appearance in court would only be necessary where a State or public prosecution applies.
Urdangarín and Torres face between 16 and 20 years in jail, and attempts by the prosecutors to strike a plea bargain have failed since Urdangarín will not agree to any deal involving a jail term of more than two years.
A custodial sentence of less than two years does not have to be served if it is a first offence, meaning Urdangarín's proposals would see him getting off with a multi-million fine – but the prosecution is not prepared to accept this.
The trial will be led by three female magistrates, Samantha Romero, Eleonor Moyà and Rocío Martín.
Journalists will be strictly limited in number and allowed entry in order of arrival, meaning some will already be planning to camp outside the court building days in advance.
Although 36 will be permitted access to the opening of the trial, only 15 will be given consent to enter the courtroom for hearings.
Neither reporters nor spectators are permitted to bring in mobile phones, tablets, computers of any nature, video or photographic cameras, and will only be allowed to leave the room when the magistrates call for recess.
A total of 84 communication media have gained passes for the hearing, and another 120 will follow the process on screens set up in the press room – the only part of the court building where photographs are allowed to be taken.
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