Spanish Star Isabel Pantoja Headed to Jail

Spanish folk singer Isabel Pantoja leaves the provincial court of Malaga, Spain on October 11, 2012 after attending a session of the Malaya corruption case trial for money laundering, in which the former mayor of Marbella, Julian Munoz, and his ex-wife, Maite Zaldivar, are also accused.

EPA/Jorge Zapata/Landov

Multi-million-selling singer & celebrity media staple to start two-year sentence for money laundering.

Isabel Pantoja, one of Spain's best-known singers and a pop-culture icon throughout the Spanish-speaking world, is expected to turn herself in at a relatively luxurious women's prison by Thursday, the deadline set by a jury for her to start a two-year sentence for money laundering.

Pantoja, who has reportedly sold more than 6 million albums and commands an average 60,000 euros per concert, canceled a series of upcoming shows in Spain after her Nov. 4 sentencing, which capped a years-long investigation. The court denied a request by Pantoja's lawyers to keep her out of prison. In addition to the jail term, she is to pay 1.1 million euros.

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The singer's troubles stem from her romantic relationship with Julian Muñoz, the former mayor of Marbella, the oceanfront Southern Spanish city long known as a hot spot for the rich. A state court in nearby Malaga convicted Pantoja of helping Muñoz launder funds he embezzled from Marbella government coffers while serving as mayor. Muñoz is currently serving a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence. His ex-wife, Maite Zaldivar, was also convicted. 

A judge called Pantoja's crime "one of the most demolishing attacks that can be infringed on a democratic society." The court acknowledged it was making an example of Pantoja at a time of rampant corruption in Spain by public figures. (Earlier this month, renowned soprano Montserrat Caballe was able to negotiate a deal to avoid prison for tax evasion.)   

So far, Pantoja's family's attempts to have the start of her sentence delayed until mid-December have been unsuccessful. Her son, Kiko Rivera, has taken to social media, saying she has been made into a scapegoat. 

The raven-haired Pantoja, now 58 years old, is an icon in Spain, for fans and detractors alike, particularly in the South. Widely considered one of the greatest interpreters of the romantic copla genre, also known simply as "Spanish song," she has recorded over 30 albums. She has also recorded pop tunes and recently collaborated with Mexican ranchera singer Juan Gabriel.

A native of Triana, a Seville neighborhood that breeds flamenco artists, Pantoja first danced in a flamenco show at age 7, and launched her successful singing career when still in her teens. Pantoja's notoriety increased with her 1983 marriage to Francisco Rivera "Paquirri," a star bullfighter. When Paquirri was killed in the ring in 1984, the glamorous Pantoja became known as "the widow of Spain."

The dramas of Pantoja's personal life have been constantly tracked by gossip magazines, from whom Spanish media says she has earned considerable income over the years, including a payoff of 800,000 euros for one recent magazine exclusive, according to a report. Her net worth has been reported at over 10 million euros.

While the Spanish press continues to speculate about when Pantoja will pack her bag and appear at the gates of designated prisons in Madrid or Sevilla, she remains secluded with her family at her 500-acre estate, Cantora.