Spain's Playground For The Wealthy Becomes Corruption Scandal Epicenter : Parallels The Spanish island of Mallorca, a popular resort destination known as the "jewel of the Mediterranean," is in the spotlight now as Princess Cristina, the king's sister, goes on trial for fraud.
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Spain's Playground For The Wealthy Becomes Corruption Scandal Epicenter

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Spain's Playground For The Wealthy Becomes Corruption Scandal Epicenter

Spain's Playground For The Wealthy Becomes Corruption Scandal Epicenter

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The tax fraud trial involving Spain's Princess Cristina resumed this week on the Spanish island of Mallorca. She and 16 other defendants are accused of doing fraudulent business deals on the island, which has now become a symbol of greed and excess. Lauren Frayer reports that Mallorca has gone from being a vacation hotspot for Spanish royals to the scene of the country's most-watched corruption trial.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: On a blustery winter day, Mallorca's Royal Yacht Club is nearly deserted.

ALEJANDRO MONTOJO: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "Take a walk down the dock and you'll see lots of empty slips where superyachts used to be," says boat cleaner Alejandro Montojo. "The royals used to be here all the time, but they hardly come anymore," he says. "Now it's all about austerity. They don't want to flaunt their yachts paid for by big businessmen," he says.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mallorca, the jewel of the Mediterranean.

FRAYER: Tourism exploded onto Mallorca after the Spanish royals started vacationing here decades ago. The capital Palma has two royal palaces towering over Mediterranean shores. But what went on in those palaces is the subject of Spain's most-watched corruption trial.

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JOSE LUIS BALLESTER: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: The first of 17 defendants to testify was Jose Luis Ballester, an Olympic sailor and childhood friend of the royals. He described sealing fraudulent business deals over tennis matches at one of the palaces. His co-defendants include Princess Cristina, the king's sister and her aristocrat husband, Inaki Urdangarin.

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JAUME MATAS: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "We were interested in keeping Urdangarin and the family happy," said another government official, Jaume Matas, describing how he funneled taxpayers' money to Urdangarin, who's accused of embezzling $6.5 million and could go to prison for nearly 20 years. His wife, the princess, could get eight years for two lesser charges of tax fraud. As this trial airs live on Spanish TV, many locals, like Irene Alonso, are getting angry about how their island became a playground for Spain's rich and famous and allegedly for corruption.

IRENE ALONSO: I'm angry. I'm furious because they had it all and they take advantage of these positions. It's like they are all laughing at our faces. They had money, and they wanted even more.

FRAYER: Mallorca and its sister islands had long been governed by Spain's conservatives, 11 of whom, former government officials, are defendants in this trial. Their alleged crimes came out at the height of the economic crisis here when ordinary Spaniards were suffering. And last spring, the island's conservatives lost their majority in local elections. Jesus Jurado is a former firefighter and hotel worker who's now the vice president of Mallorca. He's from the left-wing antiestablishment party Podemos.

JESUS JURADO: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "It's like a mafia ran this island and now all of our top officials are either in jail or on trial," he says. He's sorting through government contracts to see which ones are fraudulent, and he's writing a petition that would require Spain's royals to go down to one palace here instead of two. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

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