Palace to the dock: Spanish Princess Cristina's downfall

MADRID - A beaming Princess Cristina and her new husband, the six-foot six-inch Olympic athlete Inaki Undangarin, waved from an open-top Rolls-Royce to crowds of well-wishers on their wedding day on October 4, 1997.

Dressed in a brilliant white designer gown and crowned with a diamond-studded tiara borrowed from her mother, then queen Sofia, the princess's wedding in Barcelona seemed to encapsulate the popularity of the Spanish monarchy.

Now Cristina, one of King Felipe VI's two elder sisters, is to become the first ever member of the Spanish royal family to go on trial, in a scandal that has outraged many Spaniards and contributed to her father's abdication in June.

Her fall from grace could hardly be more dramatic.

After her marriage, the Infanta Dona Cristina Federica of Bourbon and Greece, who represented Spain in the sailing team at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, became a darling of the celebrity press and won praise for having a salaried job.

Her husband, who became Duke of Palma on his marriage, was a dashing, blue-eyed sporting hero.

He was part of the Spanish Olympic handball team in 1992 in Barcelona and then in 1996 in Atlanta when his team won bronze and he met the princess.

The team would go on to win a second bronze in 2000 in Sydney with the duke as their captain.

'Love and trust'

Cristina, 49, was still smiling even as she entered a court in Palma de Majorca in February to answer an investigating judge's questions about suspected tax dodging and money-laundering linked to 46-year-old Urdangarin's allegedly corrupt business dealings.

Cristina, a married mother of four who studied in Madrid and has a masters degree in international relations from New York University, denied detailed knowledge of her husband's affairs, saying she simply trusted and loved him.

Now the judge, Jose Castro, has wrapped up his four-year investigation by ruling that Cristina must stand trial as a suspected accessory to tax fraud by her husband.

The duke, who grew up mainly in Barcelona, is now scorned by Spaniards indignant over allegations that he and his business partner used their non-profit Noos Institute to cream off money from contracts from regional governments intended for staging sports and tourism events.

The corruption scandal sent the popularity of the royals tumbling, and on June 18 the 76-year-old Juan Carlos, widely respected for guiding his country from dictatorship to democracy after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, tearfully abdicated the throne in favour of his son.

Felipe, 46, launched his reign promising Spaniards an "honest and transparent" monarchy.

Cristina had enjoyed a reputation for a commitment to humanitarian causes, becoming an honorary president of a Spanish commission of UNESCO.

But "she is enormously competitive and obstinate," said Andrew Morton, a British royal affairs specialist who wrote a book on the female members of Spain's royal family.

The princess works for a charitable foundation run by La Caixa bank and oversaw its social programmes from Barcelona until the foundation posted her to Geneva last year.

The couple own a Barcelona mansion which reportedly cost around six million euros ($8 million). It has since been impounded by the courts.

Cristina's lawyers say she is innocent of the accusations.

"When one person is in love with another, she trusts, has trusted and will carry on trusting that person come hell or high water," said one of her lawyers, Jesus Maria Silva.

The duke, too, denies wrongdoing.

Now Felipe has taken the throne, Cristina no longer represents the crown as part of the official royal family, which under Spanish law includes only the king, his spouse, his immedate forebears, his descendants and the crown prince.