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Spanish court acquits king's sister, Princess Cristina, of tax fraud

By Rodrigo De Miguel and Sonya Dowsett

MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish king's sister, Princess Cristina, was acquitted on Friday of being an accessory to tax fraud at the end of a year-long trial seen as a test of whether Spain's rich and powerful are accountable to the law.

Cristina's husband, Inaki Urdangarin, was sentenced to over six years in prison on charges including fraud and tax evasion. Cristina was fined 265,000 euros ($282,000) for benefiting, albeit unknowingly, from her husband's ill-gotten gains.

The trial, and the long investigation that preceded it, had been closely followed in a country jaded by high-level political and banking corruption cases, where inequality has grown in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

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King Felipe's 51-year-old sister and her husband were among 18 defendants in the trial, which followed a probe into a charity run by her husband.

Prosecutors said Urdangarin had used his royal connections to win public contracts to put on events through his non-profit organization, the Noos Foundation, then overcharged for the events and hidden millions of euros in proceeds abroad.

Some of the foundation's money was transferred to a private company and used to pay for family holidays, home furnishings and theater tickets, prosecutors said.

The investigation heightened the impression among Spaniards that the royal family was out of touch with ordinary people just as Spain was suffering its worst recession of modern times.

Public support for the family eroded further when it emerged that King Juan Carlos had gone on an elephant hunting expedition in Africa at the height of the financial crisis. He abdicated in 2014 in favor of his son.

When he ascended the throne, King Felipe removed his older sisters, Elena and Cristina, from royal duties as part of efforts to modernize the monarchy. The following year he stripped Cristina of her title of Duchess of Palma.

Cristina is the first member of the Spanish royal family ever to stand in a dock. She faced up to eight years in prison if found guilty.

Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball player, faced a maximum term of 19 and a half years in jail.

Neither Cristina nor her husband were called to court for the ruling. Both have lived in Switzerland with their four children since 2013, and have always denied any wrongdoing.

The case can be appealed in the Supreme Court, but it was not clear whether Urdangarin would choose to do so.

Nine of the defendants were acquitted of all charges.

(Editing by Angus Berwick and Kevin Liffey)

 
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