Who is Morten Messerschmidt?
Morten Messerschmidt is the deputy chair and so-called Crown Prince of the Danish People’s Party, long seen the most likely successor to the populist party’s co-founder and current leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl.
What is he supposed to have done?
When he was an MEP in 2015, Messerschmidt served as chairman of Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy (Meld), a group of Eurosceptic MEPs.
Through Meld, and its linked fund Feld, he applied for funding of 98,325 Danish kroner to hold a conference for party members at the Color Hotel in Skagen. Although the party received the money, the conference Messerschmidt had promised the EU was never held, with the party instead using the money to hold a summer meeting, with football matches and museum visits.
Messerschmidt is also accused of forgery, as he presented a contract purporting to be between the Color Hotel and the party. The contract was signed by Jeannie Nørhave, who purported to represent the hotel but who is instead the Danish People’s Party’s administrative chief.
What could happen if he is found guilty?
The prosecutor has charged Messerschmidt under three different sections of the Penal Code, the first of which deals with the misuse of EU funds and has a maximum punishment of one-and-a-half years in jail. The other two, which cover forgery, come with a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
If Messerschmidt is found guilty, and particularly if he is jailed, it will quite likely mark the end of his political career.
It also risks damaging the Danish People’s Party’s standing in the run-up to local elections on November 16th.
What happened on Monday?
In court on Monday, Messerschmidt pleaded not guilty, saying that he had been so busy with his political career that he had not had time to check the applications for grants that his staff sent to Meld, and had therefore not realised that the agenda sent to Meld did not end of matching the actual conference which took place.
Brussels he said was a “paper circus”, with huge numbers of documents required to be signed off on.
“I have never signed so many papers as I did there,” he said. “About every other month I got a folder submitted. It can be thank you letters, minutes, and everything else that needs to be signed.”
How did the supposed fraud come to light?
Messerschmidt’s MEP colleague Rikke Karlsson left the party in 2015, citing misuse of the Meld and Feld funds. The European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf) then began investigating the issue, in 2019 passing the investigation over to Denmark’s State Prosecutor for Serious Economic and International Crime (Søik). The prosecutor finally charged Messerschmidt in April.
Why has it taken so long to get to court?
Partly because of the length of time it took both Olaf and Søik to carry out their investigations.
How long will the court case last?
The case will be in court for seven days, with the court’s judgement and also possibly Messerschmidt’s sentence handed down on August 13th.