Iñaki Urdangarin chooses women’s prison to serve his time

The disgraced brother-in-law of King Felipe VII has opted for a small prison outside the city of Avila to serve out his sentence, where he will be the only male inmate.

Iñaki Urdangarin chooses women’s prison to serve his time
Photo: AFP

The choice of penitentiary was revealed on Monday morning when Urdangarin, who is married to the King’s sister Cristina, turned up at the gate to begin his sentence.


He arrived at Brieva, a prison 100 km north of Madrid and 7km outside the walled city of Avila, at 8am on Monday.

The choice of jail is an unusual one.

The former Olympic handball player has opted for a small jail where the inmates are exclusively women, and very limited facilities when it comes to exercise yard and activities.

Although it has a small unit for male inmates – comprising four cells – the last one left in 2005 after he requested a transfer to a prison near Zaragoza.

That was another high profile figure involved in a corruption; Luis Roldan, a former Civil Guard chief and Socialist (PSOE) politician, Luis Roldán, who was sentenced to 31 years for embezzlement, bribery, tax evasion and fraud.

He served 11 of them at Brevia and when he left wrote a letter to the prison service containing “shocking” passages on the techniques he used to avoid “losing his head”, according to online newspaper El Diario.

The newspaper reported that Urdangarin can expect to have a television in his cell and can request books from the library in the women’s wing.

He will be watched over by one prison guard on rotation within a team of eight and will be allowed weekly visits from friends and family.

But the prison will be expected to supply gym equipment because no such facilities currently exist in the men’s unit and the exercise yard comprises a space of only “25 steps long by 7 steps wide”.

Sources told that the choice was positive for prison authorities as it avoids having to take extra security precautions that might be necessary for a high-profile prisoner incarcerated among other prisoners.

Podemos were quick to lambast the news, insisting that the former Duke of Palma, who was stripped of his title after the scandal, was receiving “special privileges”.

“This is clearly a case of royal privilege,” Pablo Echenique, Podemos's secretary of organisation, told reporters on Monday. “Not everyone gets the choice of being incarcerated in a women's prison, ordinary prisoners do not have the same privileges as the king's brother-in-law.”


The 50-year-old had been found guilty last year of embezzling millions of euros between 2004 and 2006 from a non-profit foundation he headed on the island of Majorca.

Urdangarin's incarceration came six days after the Supreme Court rejected his appeal and handed him a sentence of five years and 10 months of prison for embezzling millions of euros in a case which caused uproar in Spain and tainted the royal family's image.

The scandal contributed to the decision of King Felipe VI's father Juan Carlos I to abdicate in 2014.


FOCUS: Can Spain’s King restore faith in the monarchy?

Families are frequently a source of embarrassment, but the recent troubles caused by Spanish King Felipe VI's relatives belong to an entirely different realm.

FOCUS: Can Spain's King restore faith in the monarchy?

From expedited Covid vaccinations to tax offences and shady financial dealings by family members, Felipe has found himself in a royal mess sabotaging his efforts to clean up the image of Spain’s scandal-tainted monarchy.

It has in some ways left him tilting at windmills. Earlier controversies led to him cutting off his own father’s allowance, among other steps, but now more may be on the way, as he seeks to balance
family concerns with understandable outrage in Spain.

Last week his father, former King Juan Carlos, announced he had settled a debt of nearly 4.4 million euros ($5.3 million) with the Spanish tax office due on the value of previously undeclared private jet flights paid by a foundation based in Liechtenstein.

It was the second such tax settlement in less than three months for Juan Carlos, who went into self-exile in the United Arab Emirates in August as questions mounted over the origins of his fortune.

The former king is the target of three separate probes into his financial dealings.

And on Wednesday King Felipe’s older sisters Elena and Cristina acknowledged that they were vaccinated for the coronavirus while visiting their father in Abu Dhabi, sidestepping the immunisation queue in Spain.

The king’s spokesman stressed his sisters, just like his father, were no longer officially part of the monarchy and he was therefore not responsible for their actions.

‘Protect monarchy’

“He takes it badly, logically…because like everyone else, he has a heart” but “his role is to protect the monarchy from the storm,” journalist Jose Apezarena, the author of several books on Felipe, told AFP.

“It is clear to him that if he has to choose between the family and the monarchy, he will choose the monarchy.”

After Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 against a backdrop of scandals over his finances and love life, Felipe VI ascended the throne with the goal of restoring the monarchy’s prestige.

He promptly ordered an audit of the royal household’s accounts and issued a “code of conduct” for its members.

The following year he stripped the title of duchess from his sister Cristina who was implicated along with her husband Inaki Urdangarin in a wide-ranging case of embezzlement of public funds.

The couple stood trial in 2017. While the court acquitted Cristina, her husband is serving a jail sentence of five years and 10 months.

Last year Felipe renounced any future personal inheritance he might receive from his father, and stripped him of his annual allowance of nearly 200,000 Euros, after new details of his allegedly shady dealings emerged.

The king could be forced to go even further, according to Pablo Simon, a political science professor at Madrid’s Carlos III University.

“Felipe VI does not keep his family under control and their behaviour represents a huge reputation problem” for the monarchy, he said.

There will be further revelations regarding Juan Carlos’ questionable financial dealings in the coming years and Felipe will have “no alternative but to erect a clearer firewall”, such as asking the government to remove his title of king emeritus, he added.

PM under pressure

The royal scandals also put Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in an “uncomfortable situation”, said Simon.

Socialist ministers have in recent days repeatedly praised Felipe as “exemplary” even as they criticise his father’s behaviour, and the party backs the continuation of the monarchy.

But the scandals give fuel to the anti-monarchy arguments of far-left party Podemos, the junior partner in Sanchez’s minority coalition government.

Podemos, along with smaller Basque and Catalan separatist parties which help the government pass legislation in parliament, are calling for a serious debate over the future of the monarchy.

Sanchez in December referred vaguely to a “road map” to renew the Crown “in terms of transparency and exemplarity”.

If a debate over the monarchy’s future were to open it would lead to “the fracture of the majority supporting the government”, said Simon.