Employee at Danish social welfare authority embezzled 111 million kroner

A former employee at Socialstyrelsen, an administrative department of the Ministry for Children and Social Affairs, misappropriated 111 million kroner (14.9 million euros) of public funds.

Employee at Danish social welfare authority embezzled 111 million kroner
Minister for Children and Social Affairs Mai Mercado. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

A 64-year-old woman is wanted by police after an internal investigation at the agency found evidence of embezzlement of over 100 million kroner, media including Ritzau, DR and Politiken reported on Tuesday after the ministry released details of the affair.

The suspect worked at the agency until September this year and is registered as living at an address in west Copenhagen, according to Politiken’s report.

She is reported to have been a highly-trusted staff member whose role included coordinator duties, which gave her high-level access and privileges within the agency’s internal systems.

She was employed by the authority for over 40 years before being expelled and denied access to systems and premises after the affair was discovered on September 26th, the newspaper writes.

Minister for Children and Social Affairs Mai Mercado said at a press conference on Tuesday that the woman has previously filed for bankruptcy. She registered a company in Denmark in 2006 and closed it in 2016.

The possibility of others having participated in the large-scale embezzlement is yet to be ruled out.

Embezzlement by the woman is reported to have taken place throughout a 16-year period from 2002 to 2018, investigations of transactions made by the woman have revealed, uncovering misappropriation of as much as 111 million kroner via 274 transactions to a private account – an amount that could yet increase pending further investigation.

The money is in many cases reported to have been taken from funds designated to support socially underprivileged people.

Mercado said on Tuesday that there was, however, no evidence that any social projects have been forced to close due to the suspected fraud.

“I am deeply shocked that there appears money for underprivileged groups appears to have been taken. It is completely unheard of for this kind of thing to happen,” Mercado said.

The case has been referred to the state prosecutor for Special Financial and International Crime (SØIK) while external investigations will also look into the extent of the fraud and how it was allowed to occur, Politiken writes.

The woman, who is wanted by Interpol, is reported to have fled abroad.

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Former Danish social worker convicted of massive fraud

A former employee of Denmark's social services was sentenced to six and half years in prison on Tuesday for embezzling millions in funds, meant for people in need, over decades.

Former Danish social worker convicted of massive fraud
Britta Nielsen's defence lawyer Nima Nabipour speaks to media. Photo:Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Britta Nielsen, 65, was accused of diverting 117 million Danish kroner (15.7 million euros) between 1993 and 2018 from the social services to her personal bank accounts by creating fictitious projects.

In its verdict, the Copenhagen court found Nielsen guilty of “fraud of a particular grave nature… abusing a public position and forgery of a particular grave nature”.

The six year and six month prison sentence is one of the longest handed down for economic crimes in the country, according to Danish media.

Prosecutors had requested at least eight years in prison, claiming she had abused her position as a public servant.

“She has betrayed the trust she was given when she became employed by the National Board of Social Services,” prosecutor Lisbeth Jørgensen told the court during the trial.

Nielsen, who was employed by the social services agency for 40 years, admitted to the fraud but not the amount of money suggested by the prosecution.

During the trial, she explained that she had been drawn into a “vicious circle” and claimed she had acted to improve to the lives of her three children, who have also been charged with handling of stolen goods.

Her lawyer, Nima Nabipour, has asked for a sentence of four to six years, arguing that crimes committed before 2009 have reached their statute of limitations.

The court however found her liable for the embezzling of the full 117 million.

Nabipour has also pleaded mitigating circumstances, like Nielsen's age and health.

The trial has had to be adjourned several times due to Nielsen collapsing in court and being too ill to stand trial.

However, a medical examination found her to be in good health.

Nielsen was arrested in late 2018 in South Africa, where she had fled, and later extradited to Denmark.

In addition to her jail sentence over 113 million kroner of Nielsen's assets were confiscated.