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

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Ritzau/The Local - [email protected]
Lawyers criticise Danish parliament for ‘special treatment’ of party leader
Liberal Alliance leader Alex Vanopslagh has come in for renewed criticism over his "double home" scandal. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

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.

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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.

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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.

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