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Danish politician to face retrial in EU fraud case

Morten Messerschmidt, the vice-chair of the Danish People's Party (DF), will face retrial in a high-profile fraud case after the judge who found him guilty in the trial was disqualified.

Morten Messerschmidt, pictured here in the Danish parliament, will face retrial in a high-profile EU fraud case.
Morten Messerschmidt, pictured here in the Danish parliament, will face retrial in a high-profile EU fraud case. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Messerschmidt was in August given a six-month conditional prison sentence at the Lyngby District Court for forging documents and misusing EU funds when he was an MEP in Brussels.

But the judge in the trial, Søren Holm Seerup, was on Wednesday found by the Østre Landsret high court to be disqualifiable from the case.

The basis for the decision was a “like” given by Seerup to a Facebook post about Messerschmidt, which was posted the day after the original trial ended and criticised Messerschmidt for continuing as DF’s deputy leader despite his apparent conviction.

Because of the judge’s disqualification, the conviction against Messerschmidt is quashed and he will be retried.

The high-profile DF politician is a frontrunner to take over as the leader of the party following the resignation in November of long-serving chairperson Kristian Thulesen Dahl.

“The means in any event that the conviction I was given last summer is no longer valid. I haven’t been convicted of anything,” Messerschmidt said outside the court on Wednesday according to news wire Ritzau.

The DF deputy leader has an earlier conviction, having been given, along with other members of the DF youth party, a 14-day suspended prison sentence under Denmark’s racism laws in 2003 for an anti-Islam poster.

“The next time we meet (in court) it will be with a more offensive and new approach,” he said in reference to the retrial.

The retrial means a final outcome in the case is now unlikely before 2023, should it be concluded following appeals.

READ ALSO: Explained: What are the fraud accusations against the Danish People’s Party’s vice chair?

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POLITICS

How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

Analysts in Denmark say Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen could announce a general election as early as next week, despite flagging poll numbers.

How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

Speculation suggests that Frederiksen will announce an election, which could take place by October but possibly earlier, when the Social Democrats convene next week for their summer group meeting. 

Legally, the next general election can take place as late as June 4th, 2023. 

But despite worsening polls, a general election in Denmark this autumn now appears likely due to increasing pressure on Frederiksen from other parties and heightened criticism of her government.

“It will not be possible to make any new, broad political agreements on this side of a general election. There’s no willingness to compromise between parties. So Danish politics is already frozen by the election campaign, even though it hasn’t been formally announced yet,” TV2’s political editor Hans Redder said last week.

Redder said it was “relatively probable” that Frederiksen will announce an election in August.

“The political season begins next week. Several parties will have their summer group meetings and start calling press briefings. So it’s just a question of which date Mette Frederiksen decides on,” Redder said.

The Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party, which is an ally of the government, has demanded Frederiksen call a general election by October 4th.

Although a new general election is not due until next year, the Social Liberals earlier in the summer said they wanted an election by October after the government and Frederiksen were severely criticised earlier this summer in an official inquiry into the mink scandal.

The Social Liberals have the ability to bring down the government by withdrawing their support for Frederiksen and bringing an no confidence motion in parliament, although it’s not certain they would actually do this.

In addition to the mink scandal, Frederiksen’s government has been damaged by a high-profile case centred around leaks at intelligence service Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE), as well as broader criticism of her leadership style.

“(Frederiksen) really needs some wins and we have not heard much about what their election platform will be. That will come when the 2030 (political) plan is presented,” political analyst Hans Engell told news wire Ritzau.

“Bad opinion polls are not conducive to an early general election and it doesn’t seem as though there is complete clarity over their 2030 plan. They are probably keeping all their options open,” he said.

Talk of an early election comes despite poll numbers looking as bad for the government as they have at any time since they came to power in 2019.

A new opinion poll by Voxmeter for news agency Ritzau on Monday gave the Social Democrats their worst showing since 2015. 

The ‘blue bloc’ — anchored by the Liberal party (Venstre) and the Conservative party — command 50 percent of the vote according to the latest poll.

Meanwhile, the government’s ‘red bloc’ holds just 47.5 percent. 

The demands that Frederiksen hold elections by October at the latest come from the Social Liberals, also of the red bloc.

The ‘bloc’ classification commonly referred to in Danish politics broadly denotes whether parties are right or left of centre.

‘Blue bloc’ parties will usually work together in parliament and back the leader of the Liberal party to be prime minister if they can command a majority after a general election. The ‘red bloc’ will usually support the Social Democratic leader to become PM, as is currently the case with Frederiksen.

READ ALSO: Danish PM Frederiksen loses majority in ‘neck and neck’ new poll

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