Public outrage over two-day jail release of King’s disgraced brother-in-law

The brother-in-law of Spain’s King Felipe walked out of prison on Thursday after being granted a two-day release from jail each week, sparking outrage over his special treatment.

Public outrage over two-day jail release of King’s disgraced brother-in-law
The former Duke of Palma outside court in Mallorca. Photos: AFP

Iñaki Urdangarin, 51, was jailed in June 2018 after being found guilty of fraud, tax evasion and embezzlement in a high profile scandal that rocked the royal family.

He was accused in Mallorca of using his royal status to win contracts and was found guilty of embezzling €6 million of public funds through his not-for-profit Noos Institute.

His sentence was reduced from six years and three months to five years and ten months after an appeal and he was sent to serve time in a private wing of a women’s prison near Avila.

But on Thursday he began the start of a 16 hour release from behind bars, a privilege granted by a court in Castilla y León to avoid him suffering “absolute isolation”.

Urdangarin, who is married to the Infanta Cristina, the younger sister of the Spanish monarch with whom he has four children, will spend two eight hour days performing voluntary work at an adult community centre before returning to the prison at night.

He spent his first day helping out at Hogar Don Orione, a centre for adults with learning difficulties, in Pozuelo de Alarcón, where he smiled at the cameras and waved as he entered the building.

Granting permission for his day release, the judge said: “Carrying out an activity outside [prison] is positive to reduce or eliminate social exclusion or dehumanisation, the destruction of the individual which living in absolute isolation can bring.”

But some said the decision to grant the former Olympic handball champion such a privilege reeked of special treatment.

“When we talk about Urdangarin and other people in the public eye we can see that the justice ministry does not treat all equally,” said Yolanda Díaz, an MP for Podemos.

Others were quick to compare Urdangarin’s privilege with the treatment of those Catalan separatist leaders who have already been behind bars for almost two years without being convicted.

“Urdangarín, leaves prison in an official car and escort, to the door of the Center. The Political Prisoners, moved from one place to another, in a van that looks like a TANK and handcuffed as if they were TERRORISTS? … No way …”




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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.