MADRID – A lawyer for the king of Spain's son-in-law denied media reports that he is negotiating a plea bargain for his client with prosecutors over a corruption case that is making the monarchy look terrible at a time when everyday people are enduring acute economic woes.
Inaki Urdangarin, the 44-year-old in-law, has not been charged with a crime. But he has been named a formal criminal suspect and has undergone questioning by a judge in Palma on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. Urdangarin is the husband of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia's second daughter, Princess Cristina.
Urdangarin allegedly received €6 million ($7.9 million) in public money from 2004 to 2006 from regional governments in Mallorca and Valencia for arranging conferences through a nonprofit foundation he ran with a partner, then funneled it to for-profit companies they controlled.
Major Spanish newspapers including El Pais and El Mundo reported Tuesday that Urdangarin and the ex-partner are negotiating to admit guilt, return ill-gotten money, pay a big fine and avert jail.
But Urdangarin's attorney, Mario Pascual Vives, said Wednesday he himself has not been in contact with prosecutors over any such deal.
"In my capacity as lawyer for Mr. Urdangarin, neither formally nor informally have I been in any kind of contact with prosecutors, nor their honorable representatives in Palma de Mallorca, with regard to any kind of agreement or deal," the attorney told reporters in Barcelona.
Under the plea deal described in the media reports, Urdangarin would agree to plead guilty on condition prosecutors not seek a jail term of more than two years. The length of any sentence is key because first-time offenders in Spain — Urdangarin has no criminal record — who are convicted of a crime and sentenced to two years or less automatically receive a suspended sentence. So Urdangarin would not go to jail.
Urdangarin and ex-partner Diego Torres — who once taught him at an exclusive MBA program in Barcelona — could face embezzlement charges, which can carry a jail term of three to six years.
El Pais and El Mundo say Torres is seeking a similar arrangement. His lawyer, Manuel Gonzalez Peeters, did not return a call seeking comment.
When Urdangarin testified behind closed doors in February before a judge in Palma, he described himself as a mere figurehead at the nonprofit foundation — called the Noos Institute — and said the foundation's business dealings were handled by Torres, according to media reports.
The Urdangarin case and its suggestions of royals using their high-profile position to make loads of easy money in a country that is mired in recession and saddled with a jobless rate now near 25 percent has been a howling embarrassment for the Spanish monarchy. Juan Carlos has banished his son-in-law from royal events.
Many in Spain seem to think it's virtually inevitable that Urdangarin, a tall, suave man who used to be a professional handball player and met the princess at the Atlanta Olympic games in 1996, will be charged.
Things got worse for the beleaguered royal family last month when it emerged that the king went on an elephant-hunting safari in Africa right in the middle of a week when investor confidence in Spain was hitting rock bottom and Argentina nationalized a big Spanish oil company.
The trip became known only because the king fell and broke his hip during it. Back in Madrid, he apologized sheepishly in an unprecedented act of royal contrition.