Spanish King Juan Carlos' son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, will appear in court February 6 accused of corruption in a growing royal scandal, the judge said Thursday.
The announcement by the judge in Palma de Mallorca took the ballooning case to a new level, formally tying the 43-year-old ex-Olympic handball player into the case as a corruption suspect.
The judge is investigating corruption in a charitable organisation, Instituto Noos, formerly run by Urdangarin, who has the title Duke of Palma and is married to the king's youngest daughter, Princess Cristina.
As a suspect, Urdangarin may appear with his lawyer at the court hearing in Palma de Mallorca, said the statement by the investigating judge, Jose Castro Aragon.
The discrete royals have acted swiftly over the scandal, which risked an angry reaction from Spaniards at a time when five million people are out of work and the government plans harsh spending cuts.
"The accusation does not change our position. We continue with utmost respect for the judicial process which is the same position we have always had in this matter," a palace official told AFP.
"We have the utmost confidence in the work of the judges. We hope that matter will be clarified."
On December 12, the royal family suspended the duke from official engagements and the palace's highest official, Rafael Spottorno, gave an unprecedented rebuke, telling Spanish media his behaviour "does not seem exemplary".
Partly in reaction to the scandal, the royals revealed their detailed income for the first time Wednesday, showing King Juan Carlos received a salary plus expenses of 292,752 euros ($382,600) in 2011.
Urdangarin receives no money from the state.
On Tuesday, the king appeared without his daughters as he opened parliament, a rare break from tradition widely seen as a reaction to the corruption scandal despite palace denials of any link.
Court documents seen by AFP last month showed that the company, Instituto Noos, was suspected of creaming off money from contracts paid by the regional government of the Balearic Islands where it is based.
The investigation centres notably on a payment of 2.3 million euros ($3.2 million) to Instituto Noos for organising a tourism and sports conference in 2005 and 2006.
Urdangarin was president of the company between 2004 and 2006.
Public prosecutors suspect the company of siphoning off money paid by the region to firms run by Urdangarin and his successor Diego Torres, according to a search warrant for the premises of the firm.
Urdangarin last month issued a statement saying he regretted the harm the scandal was doing to the royal family's image and insisted the palace had nothing to do with his private activities.
This month his lawyer Mario Pascual Vives said the duke "is worried, saddened and rather indignant at what is coming out in the media," in comments published in the Spanish media.
Juan Carlos was proclaimed king in 1975, two days after the death of dictator General Francisco Franco who had designated him as successor in 1969. He is widely respected for helping to usher in democracy after Franco's death.