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Anti-EU champions caught misspending EU funds

 
Denmark's most anti-EU party has wrongly used EU funds to finance a number of party activities. Now the subject of a fraud investigation, the scandal has toppled one of its most high profile members, and resulted in voters turning their back on the party

The Danish Peoples Party (DF) is a proud and vocal advocate for transparency, and has long lobbied against EU overspending and waste.

But the tables have turned, and in October the EU’s anti fraud unit, OLAF, launched an investigation into DF’s use of  EU funds.

Heads have already started to roll. MEP Morten Messerschmidt – who was elected with a massive 465,758 votes in the 2014 European Parliament (EP) election – has been removed from DF’s leadership for his role.

Central to the scandal are EU funds given to DF through MELD, its old political group in the EP, and FELD, its affiliated foundation. The funds can only be used to finance activities relating to the EU, but recent revelations indicate that DF has been using the money on domestic political campaigning, which is not permitted.

Despite disagreeing with the accusations, DF announced in October that they would pay back 955,210 kroner to the EU – all funds received from the MELD and FELD, from 2012 to 2015. But the EP has refused to accept any money until OLAF’s investigation is complete.

“We suspect serious fraud due to conflicting statements by the party,” said EP spokesperson Marjory van den Broeke told Berlingske. “DF wanted to repay the money, but that isn’t something that one just does. It’s necessary to conduct a proper investigation first. Then, if things aren’t as they should be sanctions are an option.”

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Political saga
It all started back in October 2015, when MEP Rikke Karlsson from DF left the party when she was refused permission to examine the finances. She was suspicious of fraudulent activity, after being made to sign documents that stated she had participated in MELD and FELD meetings, which she had not. Parties are reimbursed when MEPs attend certain events, and Karlsson thought it was unethical.

In May, the EU asked DF to repay three million kroner, which they argue had been wrongly spent on DF domestic political campaigns, a golden handshake to an employee in MELD and FELD, and a DF boat trip in 2013 ahead of the municipality elections.

Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl announced that DF would repay 1.6 million kroner, even though the party disagreed with the parliament’s decision. He refused, however, to repay the remaining 1.3 million kroner as they were administered by MELD and FELD, not DF.

More damaging cases turned up over the summer, however. In August, Ekstra Bladet published documents, attained from French authorities, revealing that both Rikke Karlsson and DF MEP Jørn Dohrmann were elected into MELD’s management in 2014.

The problem was, however, that neither of them were present at the assembly, or knew anything about it. As if that wasn’t enough, the documents also showed that Karlsson was registered as being Lithuanian. The documents were signed and submitted by Messerschmidt. Karlsson proceeded to report Messerschmidt to the police for identity theft.

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EU investigation
In early October, several new revelations were made, including that MELD had spent EP money on media training, and on the party’s summer meetings – neither of which had any relationship to their activities.

By the end of October, DF leader Dahl decided that the party would repay an additional million kroner of EU funding it had spent on a variety of activities, including dinners with journalists, newspaper subscriptions, Christmas cards from Messerschmidt, as well as the media training and summer meetings.

“There’s been a messy, careless and lenient administration, which has proven to be a general problem in my view,” explained MEP Anders Vistisen, leader of DF’s group in the EP, in a press release after DF finished its internal investigation.

The EU refused to accept the 955,210 kroner, however, so DF has deposited the sum in a bank account until OLAF has completed its investigation.

DF founder enters debate
Former DF leader Pia Kjærsgaard accepted that the party management holds full responsibility for the situation.

“I must also say, that Morten Messerschmidt is a creative soul, but as is often the case, he doesn’t have a firm grip on finances. The two things often go together,” she told Politiken newspaper.

“I don’t believe that Morten Messerschmidt or anyone else has done this consciously and that there is evidence for fraud. I think months have gone by where things haven’t been sorted out and that’s how it became a bad habit. And such habits are unbecoming,” Kjærsgaard said.

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Bleeding voters
DF’s misuse of EU funds is all the more curious due to the party’s focus on the EU’s own misspending. Messerschmidt even published a book in 2013 titled, Diary from EU : How the EU wastes your money. The book was also financed using EU funds – funds which DF is now trying return.

The scandal has been compounded by the party’s refusal to release its finances, despite being quick to demand other parties to the same under similar circumstances. A poll carried out by Berlingske in late October found that support for DF had dropped from 20.2 percent to 17.9 percent, over the course of a month. M

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By Sophie Stenner Frahm

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