February 9, 2016 / 12:41 PM / 2 years ago

Spain's Princess Cristina returns to court in tax fraud trial

Spain's Princess Cristina (R) arrives at court with her husband Inaki Urdangarin to attend trial in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, February 9, 2016.Enrique Calvo

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Princess Cristina returned to court in Palma de Mallorca on Tuesday as defendants began to testify in a fraud trial that centers on her husband's business affairs and has badly damaged the image of the royal family.

King Felipe's 50-year-old sister became the first member of the Spanish royal family to stand in the dock at a preliminary hearing in January, and she now faces a full trial on tax fraud charges after an appeal by her lawyers was thrown out.

Cristina will be the last of 17 defendants to testify at the Palma court, where the case is being held. It is still unclear when in February she will take the stand.

All of the accused, including her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, must sit through the statements in the public trial, meaning weeks of media scrutiny on the couple at a time when the monarchy is trying to draw a line under family scandals.

Cristina and Urdangarin arrived together on Tuesday in a chauffeur-driven car with blacked-out rear windows and headed into the Mallorcan court.

The couple, who have four children, deny any wrongdoing. Cristina has been charged with two counts of being an accessory to tax fraud, which together carry sentences of up to eight years.

Urdangarin is accused of nine crimes including fraud and tax evasion with a combined possible jail sentence of 19-and-a-half years. The trial is centered on the affairs of the Noos Foundation he ran. The charity was used to embezzle millions of euros in public funds, according to prosecutors.

King Felipe, who has restored much of the monarchy's popularity with a more austere style, is also in the spotlight over his role as a broker between political parties after Spain's most fragmented election result in decades.

He has cut off his sister from functions and reduced the size of the royal family, meaning that officially she is no more than a relative. Cristina has also been stripped of her title as Duchess of Palma, though she is yet to give up her right to the throne, for which she is seventh in line.

Reporting by Sarah White, Editing by Paul Day and Angus MacSwan

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