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article imageSpain king's brother-in-law stays free while considering appeal

By Jaime Reina-Alcocer with Laurence Boutreux in Madrid (AFP)     Feb 23, 2017 in World

The brother-in-law of Spain's king, recently handed a six years and three months jail sentence for syphoning off millions, will remain free and not be required to post bail as he prepares to appeal, a court said Thursday.

The court in Palma on the island of Majorca also said Inaki Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball player married to Spain's Princess Cristina, could stay in Switzerland where he currently lives with his wife and their four children until all possible appeals are exhausted.

The decision sparked outrage in Spain where people often perceive the elite as being above the law, particularly after a series of corruption scandals emerged at the height of the country's crippling financial crisis.

But a judges' association said remaining free was common while defendants in Spain appeal sentences, and not exceptional for Urdangarin.

- Monthly checks -

When the 49-year-old left the court on Thursday, angry protesters shouted "chorizo" at him, a word that literally refers to a spicy Spanish sausage but also means "thief".

Cristina had also been accused of involvement in the scandal over her husband's business dealings while he was head of the Noos Institute, a not-for-profit sports foundation, on suspicion of helping him evade taxes.

But last Friday, following a long-running and high-profile trial, she was acquitted.

Her husband though was sentenced for using his royal connections to win inflated public contracts to stage sporting and other events, and then syphoning off the proceeds to fund a lavish lifestyle. He has until February 28 to appeal.

The fact that both stood trial was seen as unprecedented in a country that had long protected its elites.

When Urdangarin was handed the sentence, newspapers started speculating as to what prison conditions could be like for the former Duke of Palma.

On Thursday, the court said that while Urdangarin would remain free during the appeal process, he would have to check in with Swiss authorities every month.

He will also have to report any trips out of the European Union as well as any change of residency.

- 'Injustice', common practice -

Princess Cristina  seen here last year  was acquitted of helping her husband evade taxes
Princess Cristina, seen here last year, was acquitted of helping her husband evade taxes
Jaime Reina, AFP/File

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain's far-left Podemos party, reacted angrily to the news, saying "Injustice is different for everyone".

"Songs will be written about his sentence and their authors will be condemned," he tweeted.

He was referring to this week's much-talked-about sentencing of Spanish rapper Valtonyc, handed three-and-a-half years in prison for songs deemed to insult the crown -- he criticised the former king Juan Carlos in one -- and praise terrorism via references to Basque separatist group ETA.

Iglesias was not the only critic to draw parallels between Valtonyc's sentence, seen by some as a breach of freedom of expression, and Urdangarin's at least temporary reprieve.

"A rapper in jail for singing a song about the king whose son-in-law won't go to prison for stealing," tweeted journalist Hibai Arbide Aza.

But Ignacio Gonzalez Vega, spokesman for the "Judges for Democracy" professional association, said temporary prison was usually only imposed if there was a risk the defendant could escape or destroy evidence, and if there had been victims in the case.

He acknowledged, however, that this process should be better explained to the public to avoid an outcry.

"It gives the impression that a person is not going to go to jail, but that's not the case, it's just that while appeals are in the works, they remain free."

The scandal soured the end of the reign of king Juan Carlos, who gave up the throne in June 2014 after 39 years, hoping his son Felipe VI who replaced him could freshen up the image of the monarchy.

Since it erupted in 2010, Urdangarin and Cristina have been excluded from all of the family's official public appearances.

King Felipe VI also stripped his sister and Urdangarin of their titles of duchess and duke of Palma.

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