Fraud scandal turns Spaniards against their royals

PALMA, Spain - Spain's royal family used to be a cherished part of the scenery on the picturesque island of Majorca. Now a fraud scandal has made them more like a blot on the landscape.

For the royals, the island has turned from a place of sunbathing and yacht cruises to the centre of a scandal that has landed King Juan Carlos's youngest daughter Cristina in court for questioning on Saturday.

"We locals here are very supportive of the royals," said Maria de Lluc, a 34-year-old foot doctor.

"But now with everything that has happened, the monarchy has fallen low, in our eyes," she said. "I am very disappointed."

The Marivent Palace, a red-roofed edifice overlooking the Mediterranean, has for decades been the family's summer residence.

Among those who have holidayed there are Cristina and her husband Inaki Urdangarin, known as the Duke and Duchess of Palma, after the capital of the island.

A judge here summoned Cristina for questioning on Saturday as a formal suspect over tax fraud and money-laundering allegations.

She was to be questioned over her role in a business she owned with her husband, who is himself accused of embezzling public funds.

Poverty and glamour

Photographed by the press in the harbour and on yachts in the sparkling blue sea, the royal family provided a glamorous image of Majorca.

The biggest island of the Balearic archipelago, it is popular with tourists as well as the rich and famous - the US film star Michael Douglas owns a house here.

But Spain's economic crisis has shown up the divisions between rich and poor, fanning outrage over the royal scandal.

"It is true that there is a high concentration of wealth here, but we also have 18 per cent of the population living below the poverty line in the Balearics," said Aina Calvo, a former mayor of Palma.

"Suddenly it is suspected that taxpayers' money which belongs to everyone, including those in poverty, was used for personal gain. It is very hard to take on board."

Locals in Palma were so shocked by the scandal that the town hall changed the name of a street that bore their title, "Dukes of Palma".

"That decision was applauded by the vast majority of the citizens," Calvo said.

The royal family used to enjoy broad respect - particularly Juan Carlos, credited with helping steer Spain to democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

But their popularity has plunged since the case against Urdangarin opened in 2011. A recent poll showed support for the monarchy had fallen below 50 per cent.

"The royal family seemed different, like they were good and honourable people," said de Lluc.

"Now this has come out, they look just like any politicians."

Egg and chips fit for a king

Majorca used to welcome the attention in the days when the king and his wife Queen Sofia would visit its shops and cafes.

"They used to go to the village and buy bread and pasties and eat local cakes. The king used to go shooting in the countryside and to restaurants to eat egg and chips," said de Lluc.

Since the scandal broke, however, the family has kept largely out of sight here.

They used to sun themselves on the Fortuna, a yacht lent to them by a Balearics tourism business group, but Juan Carlos gave the boat back last year.

"Last summer nothing was heard of them," said de Lluc.

Since the case broke, Cristina and Urdangarin have been sidelined from official duties.

Promising to be more transparent, the palace has started publishing its accounts. But the scandal, along with Juan Carlos's faltering health, has raised debate about the future of his reign.

"The royal household's communications department is making a huge effort to adapt to the times," said Ana Romero, who covers the royal palace for El Mundo newspaper.

"But to many people this effort doesn't seem big enough."