IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Spain: New king says corruption must be eliminated

Spain's new King Felipe VI insisted in his first Christmas Eve speech Wednesday that seemingly endless examples of corruption across the country incensing voters must be stamped out.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Spain's new King Felipe VI insisted in his first Christmas Eve speech Wednesday that seemingly endless examples of corruption across the country incensing voters must be stamped out.

He did not mention his recently indicted sister, Princess Cristina, by name but stressed that Spanish public figures don't have a right "to profit or become rich."

The speech watched by millions on TV is the most important national address by Spanish kings, and Felipe gave his first after his father Juan Carlos abdicated in June — putting his own stamp on the monarchy.

Just two days before Felipe spoke, Cristina was indicted on two counts of tax fraud that could land her in prison.

She faces up to eight years if convicted in an alleged scheme that funded a lavish lifestyle for her and her husband at their Barcelona mansion.

Felipe told Spaniards they should take heart that some Spanish luminaries accused of "irregular conduct" are being held accountable in legal proceedings riveting and outraging citizens as media publicize cases affecting many politicians, his sister and her husband.

"There must not be favored treatment for those occupying a position of public responsibility," Felipe said. "Public office must not be a means to profit or becoming rich."

Although the king did not mention his sister by name, Fernando Rayon, an author and royal watcher, said there was no doubt that Felipe was singling her out.

"Logically, his sister and brother-in-law are included in the references to corruption," said Rayon, the author of four books about Spain's royal family.

Besides Cristina, Spain has seen a cascade of corruption cases hitting politicians from most of the country's political parties, plus Rodrigo Rato, the Spaniard who headed the International Monetary Fund from 2004-2007.

Cristina, 49, is the first royal family member ordered to trial since the monarchy was restored in 1975. She could end up in court toward the end of next year along with her husband Inaki Urdangarin, an Olympic handball medalist turned businessman, and 15 others targeted in the case.

The princess is accused of benefiting financially from an alleged scheme with Urdangarin's nonprofit Noos organization that allegedly embezzled public funds and syphoned them into Aizoon, a private company owned by the couple.

Urdangarin faces allegations he used his "Duke of Palma" royal title that he has since lost to land contracts.

Probing suspected abuse of company funds to cover the couple's personal expenses from their Aizoon real estate and consulting firm, an investigative judge compiled detailed lists of alleged examples. They included purchases for the couple's Barcelona mansion, salsa dancing classes and vacations at luxury hotels.

Most news of the alleged excesses emerged while Juan Carlos was king. And Juan Carlos in 2012 himself eroded much of the respect he earned in decades on the throne after he went on a secret elephant-hunting trip to Botswana at the height of Spain's financial crisis.

During his own Christmas Eve speech in 2011, Juan Carlos said that Spanish law "is the same for everyone." He made the statement as the investigation into Cristina's husband was intensifying amid speculation she might have had a role.

Felipe also said Spain's sluggish economic recovery with unemployment at 24 percent is "unacceptable" because young Spaniards who face much higher joblessness are becoming disillusioned with their prospects.

Many have left Spain to seek work abroad and those who remain often end up in dead-end, low paying jobs despite having college educations.

The king's take on the economy contrasted sharply with recent declarations by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and members of his administration, stressing that Spain's economy is rebounding and is growing faster than other European nations, thanks to austerity measures they invoked that prevented a financial meltdown.

Rajoy must call national elections by the end of next year and faces a tough battle to try to maintain the absolute majority his Popular Party won in 2011.

Aiming to reduce secessionist fervor in the northeastern region of Catalonia, Felipe said Catalans who speak their own language and pride themselves with a culture they say is distinct are an important part of Spain's social fabric.

"Millions of Spaniards have Catalonia in their hearts," Felipe said.

The king made his appearance seated in a gray suit and a light-blue tie rather than the military uniforms favored by his father.

Christmas lights on a tree in the background and a poinsettia plant added to the informal atmosphere of the staged speech that was recorded before being aired on Spanish television.

Felipe ended his speech by wishing viewers a merry Christmas in Spanish and in Spain's other three official languages — Basque, Catalan and Galician.