MADRID A Spanish judge charged Princess Cristina - younger daughter of King Juan Carlos - with tax fraud and money laundering, possibly paving the way to an unprecedented trial of a member of the royal family, the Superior Justice Tribunal of the Balearic Islands said on Tuesday.
After a lengthy investigation, Palma de Mallorca Examining Magistrate Jose Castro said in a 200-page ruling there was evidence that Cristina, 48, had committed crimes and summoned her to appear in court on March 8.
The princess's husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, has been charged with fraud, tax evasion, falsifying documents and embezzlement of 6 million euros ($8 million) in public funds through his charitable foundation which put on sports business conferences in Mallorca and elsewhere in Spain.
The princess and Urdangarin both deny wrongdoing.
The case is one of many high-level corruption scandals in Spain that have undermined Spanish faith in public institutions at a time of severe economic crisis marked by deep cuts in public spending.
Opinion of the royal family in particular has sunk to its lowest level ever. A Sigma Dos poll published on January 5 showed more than 83 percent of Spaniards think the royal family has mishandled the Urdangarin case and an unprecedented 62 percent want the once-popular King Juan Carlos to abdicate.
Judge Castro, who opened his investigation into the royal couple three years ago, has struggled to make charges stick against Princess Cristina.
In April last year he ruled there was evidence that she had aided and abetted Urdangarin. A higher court threw out those charges in May, saying the evidence was not sufficient, but gave Castro more time to investigate an accusation of tax fraud.
In bringing the new charges, Castro went against the recommendations of the anti-corruption prosecutor on the case who in December argued there was no evidence she committed crimes.
In Spain the prosecutor and the judge on a case carry out separate investigations and may disagree on proceedings. The princess is expected to appeal the charges and they could be thrown out again, or the judge may be given a period of several months to build his case ahead of trial.
While they have been under investigation, the princess and her husband have ceased to participate in public appearances. She and the couple's four children moved last year to Geneva where she works for a Spanish bank's charity. Urdangarin remains in Spain.
The case is centred on Urdangarin's non-profit Noos Foundation. He is accused of using his powerful connections to win public contracts to put on events in Mallorca and elsewhere in Spain. The judge has said there is evidence that the foundation overcharged for organising conferences and then hid the proceeds abroad.
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz)