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First witness heard in Spanish corruption trial involving Princess Cristina

The first witness has been heard in the landmark corruption trial in Spain involving 17 suspects including King Felipe's sister, Cristina. The trial centers on the business dealings of her husband, Inaki Urdangarin.

Princess Cristina de Borbon and her husband, former Olympic handball medalist Inaki Urdangarin, arrived at the makeshift courtroom in Palma on the island of Majorca on Tuesday morning. The trial is being held inside a large building in Son Rossinyol, an industrial area, rather than at the provincial court. The building is nearby the local penitentiary.

Spanien Infantin Cristina Palma Mallorca

Princess Cristina with her husband, former Olympic handball medallist Inaki Urdangarin

They are among 17 suspects who went on trial

last month as part of the case involving the activities of the Noos Institute, a charitable organisation Urdangarin founded and chaired from 2004 to 2006. Among the deals awarded to the Institute was a 1.2 million-euro ($1.6 million) contract to stage a two-day tourism and sports congress. In all, the case involves 6.2 million euros allegedly diverted from public contracts.

Princess Cristina will be the last witness to be heard. She is the first Spanish royal to face criminal charges since the monarchy was reinstated in 1975 after the rule of dictator General Francisco Franco. Her role stems from the fact that she sat on the board of the Aizoon company, that was allegedly used to channel part of the funds. Cristina and her husband are suspected of using Aizoon for personal expenses including work on their mansion in Barcelona, dance lessons and Harry Potter books, which reduced the firm's taxable profits, according to court filings.

First defendant

The first defendant to take the stand on Tuesday spoke of lucrative no-bid contracts allegedly negotiated after playing sports at a royal palace. Jose Luis Ballester is a former Olympic sailing gold medallist and friend of Urdangarin. He was head of sports with the Balearic Islands government at the time.

Ballester told the court that Jaume Matas awarded contracts - without competing bids - to the Noos Institute. Matas was the then head of the Balearic Islands government and a former cabinet minister under the conservative government of prime minister Jose Maria Aznar. He is one of the 17 accused in the case who also include former regional politicians and several businesspeople.

Ballester said he recalled negotiating deals with Urdangarin and Matas at the royal family's seaside holiday home, the Marivent palace in Palma, after playing a tennis-like game called padel. He told the court he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence because he wanted the world to "know his truth" while "others continue with their lies."

Lost titles

Cristina de Borbon was dropped from the royal family's agenda after her involvement in the case became public and caused a major scandal.

King Felipe took over from his father, Juan Carlos,

who abdicated in 2014.

Spanien Infantin Cristina Palma Mallorca

Princess Cristina denies knowledge of her husband's activities

The new king ordered palace accounts to be audited externally and

last year stripped Cristina and her husband of their titles: Duchess and Duke of Palma.

She is due to answer questions on February 26, according to the provisional trial schedule.

The princess has denied knowledge of her husband's activities but, if convicted, faces a jail term of up to eight years. Urdangarin faces more than 19 years in prison. The trial is due to run until the end of June.

jm/jil (EFE, Reuters, AFP)

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