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“The means in any event that the conviction I was given last summer is no longer valid.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?

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader

Two lawyers have accused parliament of double standards for deciding not to legally pursue Alex Vanopslagh, the leader of the Liberal Alliance party, after he was found to have breached rules relating to apartments provided to MPs.

Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader

Parliament’s decision not to take Vanopslagh’s case to the courts suggests that the public and politicians are not equal before the law, according to two lawyers who spoke to broadcaster DR.

As an elected member of parliament, Liberal Alliance leader Vanopslagh was provided with a free apartment in Copenhagen and given parliamentary subsidies for “double household” (dobbelt husførelse) because he was registered as living at an address in Struer, West Jutland.

It later emerged he did not genuinely use the Struer address as his home and had thereby broken the rules. He later paid back the subsidies in full and returned the Copenhagen apartment.

“I’m not for one second in doubt that if this had been a municipal case, the municipality would have asked for the money back and reported him to the police,” lawyer Mads Pramming, a benefit fraud specialist, told broadcaster DR.

In 2019, parliament – including Liberal Alliance – voted for stricter rules on benefit fraud, including obliging municipalities to report certain types of cases to the police.

“It looks a bit funny that parliament is enacting strict control to prevent the public being paid money they are not entitled to, and giving municipalities an obligation to report it. And when it then comes to parliament itself, things are a lot less strict,” Pramming told DR.

Struer Municipality has ruled that Vanopslagh broke CPR (central person registration) rules by not living in Struer enough between 2020 and 2022 for it to be deemed his actual residence, as he claimed at the time.

Two left-wing parties, Red Green Alliance and Alternative, have called for the Præsidium – speaker’s council – in parliament to consider whether Vanopslagh should be prosecuted over the issue.

The speaker of parliament, Søren Gade, has told DR that the case will not be taken further. A previous case from 2015 has been cited as precedent for the decision.

A second lawyer, Michael Bjørn Hansen, called that stance “absurd” in comments to the broadcaster. Hansen also has expertise in benefit fraud cases.

“Based on some kind of objective consideration, this is certainly benefit fraud. Because he has cheated on some rules and received public benefits which he is not entitled to,” he said.

Equal status before the law “is not present here” unless parliament files a report with police, he argued.

“This is different to the demands parliament is making on municipalities,” he said.

The Præsidium is responsible for managing Denmark’s 179 lawmakers. Five members of parliament sit on the council, with the speaker being the senior member.

Vanopslagh has admitted to wrongdoing in the “double home” scandal and said his knowledge of the rules had been lacking.

“It’s my fault, I made a mistake. But other people make the judgement and say what I have to pay back,” he said earlier this week.

A number of legal experts previously told newspaper Dagbladet Information that the matter should be investigated by the police.

Vanopslagh received a total of around 75,000 kroner to which he was not entitled, according to DR.