Danish welfare agency fraud case larger than first said

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A fraud involving public funds show 10 million kroner ($1.5 million) more than originally thought vanished from Danish government coffers, Denmark’s minister for children and social affairs said Friday.

Two new investigations show that a total of 121 million kroner vanished between 1993 and 2018.

“We are talking about an extremely gross abuse,” Mai Mercado said, adding that one of the new probes had gone back to 1993 while a previous investigation, presented in October, only went back to 2002.

She presented new investigations — one by an audit company and one by a law firm — commissioned by her ministry after learning about the fraud in September. Mercado declined to give further details citing a pending criminal investigation.

It was not clear how the money was stolen, but it appears the main suspect Britta Nielsen had privileged access to the Danish government welfare agency’s computer system.

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The fraud allegedly took place via non-existent projects, according to the reports. Mercado admitted “there was no reality behind some projects” to which money had been allocated.

The independent probes also pointed at a number of control weaknesses within the welfare agency’s computer system that allowed the fraud.

Nielsen was arrested Nov. 5 in Johannesburg, South Africa, on an extradition request and voluntarily returned to Denmark to face charges.

The 64-year-old and her adult son, Jimmy Hayat, are held in pre-trial custody while her adult daughters also are suspected in the case but are not detained.

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This story has been corrected to show that two new investigations, not one, show more money had vanished.

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