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This weekend, a Spanish princess will appear in court. She faces allegations of tax fraud and money laundering. It's the first time a Spanish royal has ever been named a suspect in a criminal case. From Madrid, Lauren Frayer reports this is the latest in a series of scandals that have dropped the Spanish royal family's approval rating to an all-time low.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: It seemed like a fairy tale romance. The Spanish king's youngest daughter, Infanta Cristina, went to the '96 summer games in Atlanta and fell in love with a handsome Spanish Olympian, Inaki Urdangarin. A year later, the king walked his daughter down the aisle. Urdangarin got a royal title - the Duke of Palma - and carried his bride over the threshold of their $8 million dollar home in Barcelona. The couple had four beautiful children. But the fairy tale soon unraveled.
WILLIAM CHISLETT: I think if you came back home, as Inaki must have done, and said, darling, we've just bought this 6 million euro house in Barcelona, you presumably would ask your husband, well, can we afford it, you know? And I would assume that Infanta either didn't ask, didn't want to ask, or simply assumed that they had the money.
FRAYER: William Chislett is a British author and researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid. He says the princess' husband, Urdangarin, is now accused of embezzling $8 million dollars from a sports foundation he ran. Their luxury home was seized. The princess left Spain for a job in Geneva. As for her handsome duke, Chislett says...
CHISLETT: He is persona non grata in the royal palace. I mean, I think actually that's pretty much official. They would not want to be photographed with him. I'm not quite sure what's going to happen to the Infanta. She can hardly be airbrushed out of photographs.
FRAYER: Though that's the exact plot line of a recent comedy sketch on Spanish TV.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POLONIA")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language)
FRAYER: On the Spanish satirical show "Polonia," a fairy godmother drag queen waves a magic wand and turns Urdangarin into a rat and Cristina into a pauper, and then airbrushes the princess out of royal family photos. Such satire was unheard of in Spain until recently, says Hugh O'Donnell, a Scot who wrote a book about the Spanish royals.
HUGH O'DONNELL: I mean, I remember when it would have been really unthinkable to publish a cartoon in Spain that kind of ridiculed the monarchy in any way. So as that deference fades away, figures in the monarchy become much more obvious targets for criticism, for satire.
FRAYER: And for prosecution, from which only the king has immunity. The princess appears in court this weekend. Judges plan to grill her on what role she played in her husband's business. Prosecutors allege the duke embezzled money through shell companies, at least one of which was partially owned by the princess, says Carlos Cruzado, head of the Spanish tax inspectors' union.
CARLOS CRUZADO: (Through Translator) The central question is her participation in a company called Aizoon, which tax documents show was 50 percent owned by the princess herself. With that ownership comes responsibility for any of the crimes the company may have committed.
FRAYER: If charged, the princess and her husband could face up to six years in prison. All this imperils the Spanish royal family at a time of national crisis over the economy and the 76-year-old king's ailing health. This week, the Royal Palace took another pay cut. The king, like all Spanish civil servants, has had his salary frozen for a third straight year. His daughter, Princess Cristina, has been cut from the budget altogether. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.