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Ex-Danish Defence Minister and Spy Chief ‘relieved’ After Charges Dropped

Denmark’s former defence minister and ex-spy chief have spoken of their relief after prosecutors dramatically dropped criminal charges accusing them of leaking state secrets.

Prosecutors said this week they would withdraw the cases after Denmark’s highest court made a series of rulings preventing the prosecution from holding the trials in secret.

The decision ends a high-stakes legal drama in which two former senior public officials were charged with disclosing classified information about a secret intelligence partnership between Denmark and the US.

The trials of the veteran government minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen and former spy chief Lars Findsen were due to begin later this month. Both men faced prison sentences after they were charged with offences amounting to treason.

Speaking to the Guardian, Frederiksen said: “I am very relieved that this nightmare is over. It has been two very difficult years for me”. He called for the “entire process” to now be investigated by an independent judge-led commission.

Findsen said that although he had not been worried about what would happen if his case went to court, he said he was “delighted to not have to use the next three or fours years” on the case.

He said he was “saddened by the mishandling of delicate matters” by the government and an intelligence oversight body that in 2020 published a critical report into the country’s foreign intelligence service.

Publication of the report sparked a series of extraordinary events that led to Findsen being suspended as head of the spy service, placed under intrusive covert surveillance and secretly held in prison for 70 days.

Lars Findsen

The criminal cases, which have rocked Danish politics in recent years, have been viewed as part of a wider government crackdown against leaks by members of the intelligence community.

At the heart of both cases were allegations the former officials disclosed information relating to a secret deal between Danish intelligence and the US National Security Agency to tap fibre-optic cables transporting internet traffic through Denmark.

The existence of the deal first emerged in 2014 and had been widely reported by Danish journalists between 2020 and 2021, however prosecutors sought to hold the case behind closed doors.

Before the trials, the supreme court made a series of judgments, ruling that classified information would need to be shared with Frederiksen and Findsen and that hearings should be partially held in the open.

On Wednesday, the prosecution authority said that after the court’s rulings, Danish intelligence informed prosecutors that it was “no longer safe” to pursue the cases against Frederiksen and Findsen. Prosecutors also dropped a separate case against an official who worked at the country’s domestic intelligence agency.

Commenting on the decision, senior prosecutor Jakob Berger Nielsen said: “For the intelligence services it is crucial that the confidentiality of their information is intact and that it is handled with the greatest possible security.”

The withdrawal of the cases was interpreted by Danish media as a major defeat for the government led by prime minister Mette Frederiksen, which now faces a political backlash and calls for an independent inquiry to investigate its handling of the prosecutions.

In an editorial published by Berlingske, the newspaper said the cases “resemble the biggest political/administrative scandal in recent Danish history”.

“These are cases where, by all accounts, the only real question is whether the scandal is due to abysmal incompetence or political abuse of power,” it said.

Source : The Guardian