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One of Europe's oldest monarchies is experiencing something entirely new. Yesterday, Princess Cristina of Spain went on trial for tax fraud. She is the sister of King Felipe, and she is the first member of Spain's royal family to face criminal prosecution ever. Lauren Frayer reports on what Spaniards think of their princess in the dock.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Spain's hilltop royal palace towers over working-class barrios on the west side of Madrid. The area is home to Magdalena and Margarita Rodriguez Prado, two sisters in their late 60s. I found them huddled under a wall-mounted TV in their local chocolate-and-churros shop, glued to footage of Princess Cristina's trial.
MARGARITA PRADO: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: "I think she's a good person, but my God, the mess she's gotten herself into," Margarita says. Her sister Magdalena chimes in.
MAGDALENA PRADO: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: "It's such a shame. I'd like to think she's not guilty because I love the royals, and I love Spain," she says. "And we remember their beautiful wedding." That royal wedding in 1997...
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FRAYER: ...When Princess Cristina married a dashing athlete she'd met at the Atlanta Olympics earlier. The groom caressed the princess's face at the altar of Barcelona's cathedral. Magdalena and Margarita still remember and still swoon.
MAGDALENA PRADO: (Laughter).
FRAYER: But fast-forward nearly two decades...
JOSE CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: ...And her throne has become a wooden bench in the defendants' dock as a judge reads out charges. The princess and her husband are on trial, accused of embezzling 6-and-a-half million dollars of public funds through a supposedly nonprofit sports foundation they ran together. Cristina is charged with tax fraud, her husband with worse - money laundering and forgery. Cristina is the king's sister and first member of the Spanish royal family ever to face trial. Her fall from grace coincided with the economic crisis here and the rise of public resentment.
JULIA MAMPASO: My country is broke. I have millions of people in the last years that are jobless.
FRAYER: Julia Mampaso, who also lives in the shadow of the royal palace, is among the more than 1 in 5 Spaniards who's still unemployed. She says the monarchy embodies the lavish lifestyle Spaniards romanticized during the economic boom years and then suddenly found repugnant when they lost their jobs.
MAMPASO: I really think it's a joke because the image that this gives - it's horrible. The law should be for all and absolutely strict. Doesn't matter who you are.
FRAYER: Cristina's trial could be the biggest challenge to the Spanish monarchy's legitimacy - even worse than her father Juan Carlos' luxury elephant-hunting trip to Africa while so many Spaniards were unemployed. His popularity plummeted, and he abdicated in 2014. The poor economy here made authorities double their efforts to go after tax fraudsters. There was so much public anger, and the government needed the money, says attorney Ignacio Sanchez, a white-collar crime expert.
IGNACIO SANCHEZ: The tax agency started to be more aggressive. They put more enforcement. And there was, like, a political decision to fight against tax fraud.
FRAYER: And that's what ensnared Cristina. Her trial is being held on the Spanish island of Majorca, the source of the public funds that disappeared. The court sits a stone's throw from one of the royal palaces where Cristina used to vacation - and also from the local prison where she could end up for eight years if convicted. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.
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