Thorning-Schmidt denies withholding information in Danish spying scandal

By Paul Dallison  -  23.01.2014 / 04:55 CET
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark, has denied any wrongdoing in a spying scandal that led to the resignations of the country's justice minister and head of the domestic intelligence service. However, she is likely to be given an official parliamentary reprimand.

The prime minister told a parliamentary inquiry on Friday (17 January) that although she knew about emails relating to the case written by Morten Bødskov, the then justice minister, she did not withhold information.

Email exchanges released last week revealed that Thorning-Schmidt's permanent secretary was aware of Bødskov's involvement in the scandal at least three weeks before Bødskov admitted that he had lied to parliament, on 10 December. “Nothing was concealed or withheld,” Thorning-Schmidt told MPs on Friday, describing claims that she failed to act in a timely fashion as “baseless”.

Bødskov admitted lying to parliament about his involvement in the cancellation of a trip by the parliament's legal committee to Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of Copenhagen, in February.

The head of the Danish domestic intelligence service, Jakob Scharf, admitted asking his officers illegally to check the calendar of Pia Kjærsgaard, a founder of the far-right Danish People's Party, in order to schedule the visit for a date when she would be unable to attend. Kjærsgaard was keen to take part in the visit, but Scharf was concerned about such a controversial politician travelling to a symbol of the counter-culture in Denmark (trade in cannabis was tolerated there by the authorities until 2004). Scharf later resigned.

Bødskov and Scharf explained that intelligence sources had warned them of the security risk involved in Kjærsgaard travelling to Christiania, but said that the intelligence was so sensitive that it could not be shared with the legal committee or Kjærsgaard.

However, the emails leaked last week show an early draft of a press release put out by Bødskov in which he apologised for misleading parliament about the real reason for the cancellation of the trip. “In retrospect, I regret that I conveyed to the legal affairs committee an inaccurate picture of the actual reason the visit could not take place at the appropriate time,” it said. That line was missing from the press release that he sent out on 19 November.

Thorning-Schmidt said that she had read the original draft and agreed the apology should be included. “There is no legal basis to think that I was negligent in my duties,” the prime minister told MPs on Friday.

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