Princess Cristina Corruption Trial: Friend of Royal Couple Says He Felt 'Used' by Them14-02-2016
Trial of the sister of Spanish King Felipe marks first time a member of Spain's royal family has faced criminal charges.
One of the co-defendants in the corruption trial of Spain's Princess Cristina and her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, has said that he felt "used" by the royal couple, who had been longstanding friends of his.
José Luis Ballester, an Olympic gold-medal-winning sailor, said that he felt obliged to help the king of Spain's brother-in-law after becoming the Balearic Island government's director general of sport between 2003 and 2007.
Mr Ballester is charged with breach of duty, embezzlement, fraud, and influence peddling.
"As time passes, you realise that you are just a small instrument, so maybe I was used," said Mr Ballester when asked if he had been deceived or used by Mr Urdangarin as a way of obtaining traction with the regional administration.
Mr Urdangarin and Princess Cristina, the sister of King Felipe, took their seats among the 17 accused for the second day of the corruption trial in which the royal couple are accused of conniving with politicians and public officials to defraud taxpayers to the tune of over five million euros.
The princess and King Felipe became friends with Mr Ballester in the early 1990s and attended his wedding in 1998.
Mr Urdangarin and Princess Cristina, who first met at the Atlanta Games, listened impassively from their seats in the third and final row of defendants in the court as Mr Ballester described how easily Mr Urdangarin's supposedly non-profit Nóos Institute was awarded public contracts without any kind of due process.
Mr Ballester described how in the summer of 2003, he, Mr Urdangarin and Jaume Matas, then the Popular Party leader of the Balearic government, discussed business over a beer after playing paddle tennis at the royal family's Marivent Palace in Palma.
He said Mr Urdangarin suggested that the regional government should sponsor a cycling team, which would become the Illes Balears-Banesto team, and that Nóos should be paid €300,000 to set up a "project office" which would follow up the sponsorship and report on its impact.
"Mr Matas told me to go ahead", Mr Ballester said. "Nobody expressed any doubt about the contract. The budget for €300,000 was prepared and we were all given the order".
Later it emerged, Mr Ballester explained, that the role of the "project office" was not very clear and in the end, his department delayed payment on a report Nóos was meant to deliver.
Mr Ballester said that Mr Urdangarin had called to demand payment in early 2007, even though the Spanish king's brother-in-law had officially left the Nóos foundation the previous year.
"They hadn't done the work, the strategic plan they wanted to bill us for did not exist," Mr Ballester said, adding that Mr Matas later told him to pay up in any case.
Also in his testimony, Mr Ballester revealed that the regional government paid Nóos over one million euros for each of the Illes Balears sports and leisure seminars it organised in 2005 and 2006.
In the case of the second of these forums, Mr Ballester recalled that Nóos's actual costs amounted to just €340,000.
The princess could face up to eight years in prison on two separate counts of being an accomplice to tax fraud carried out by her husband.
For his part, the public prosecutor has asked for a sentence of 19.5 years for Mr Urdangarin, who is accused of embezzlement of public funds, breach of official duty, fraud, influence peddling, forgery, and money laundering, as well as tax offences.
The accusations centre on the activities of the Nóos Institute, a foundation set up by Mr Urdangarin along with his former business school teacher and business partner Diego Torres.
In 2003 Mr Urdangarin, an Olympic medallist in handball, became the chairman of Nóos, with Princess Cristina as board member and her secretary from Spain's royal household as treasurer.
The foundation allegedly used its impeccable royal cachet to convince public agencies in the Balearic Islands, Valencia, and Madrid to award Nóos no-bid contracts for sport-related activities.
Prosecutors argue that the sums paid to Nóos bore little or no relation to the actual costs of its promotional activities and that Mr Urdangarin and Mr Torres funnelled the money out of the foundation and into personal accounts via a network of companies and bank accounts in offshore tax havens.
Mr Urdangarin and Cristina de Borbón were co-owners of a company called Aizoon, nominally a property firm, but through which the former Nóos chairman is accused of laundering money and which was targeted by Spain’s tax agency for non-payment.
The princess is alleged to have used money from the account to cover personal expenses.
The case was first investigated in 2008 as an offshoot of a judicial probe into the constructed of the Palma Arena velodrome in the Mallorcan capital, a project whose costs spiralled from €48 million to €110 million.
The revelations that first Mr Urdangarin and then the princess were being investigated was a major blow to Cristina's father, King Juan Carlos, who abdicated in 2014.
His successor, King Felipe VI, has taken a tough line with his sister and her husband, stripping them of their noble titles of Duke and Duchess of Palma.
But Cristina has refused to renounce her right to succession and remains sixth in line to the Spanish throne.
"People are sick of them," Rosa, a waitress in a restaurant next to the court, said of the royal couple.
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