COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Denmark’s top prosecuting authority said Thursday that it would seek to have a former defense minister's parliamentary immunity lifted so he could be charged with illegally disclosing "highly classified information.”
The office of the director of public prosecutions said it would contact Denmark's parliament, the Folketing, regarding the immunity of Claus Hjort Frederiksen. He served as the country's defense minister from November 2016 to June 2019.
Details of the accusations against Hjort Frederiksen could not be given because of “the special nature of the case” that involves sensitive information, the Danish Ministry of Justice said in a statement.
Hjort Frederiksen, who has been a lawmaker in parliament since 2005 and is a senior member of Denmark's opposition Liberals, faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted of the unauthorized disclosure of highly classified information.
Danish media have speculated the case might be linked to allegations that Denmark’s foreign secret service helped the United States spy on European leaders, including former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In a December television interview, Hjort Frederiksen spoke about a secret eavesdropping deal the United States and Denmark made in the late 1990s.
“I must risk a prison sentence. ... I have informed (Danish officials) that this agreement existed,” he said.
The deal gave the Danish intelligence community “a lot of useful information” and the status of “a trusted partner” of the U.S., Hjort Frederiksen said.
Danish broadcaster DR has reported that the Danish Defense Intelligence Service, known in Denmark by its acronym FE, conducted an internal investigation in 2014 into whether the U.S. National Security Agency had used its cooperation with the Danes to spy on Denmark and neighboring countries.
The probe, codenamed Operation Dunhammer, concluded that the NSA eavesdropped on political leaders and officials in Germany, France, Sweden and Norway.
Hjort Frederiksen responded to prosecutors' moves Thursday by lashing out at the Social Democratic government.
“I sincerely hope that the public and all members of the Folketing can now gain insight into what it is that the government believes that I have done that is considered treason,” he told Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet.
Hjort Frederiksen told broadcaster TV2 that “according to my understanding I have not revealed any secrets. This whole case started in 2013 when (former NSA contractor Edward) Snowden leaked papers he got hold of from the NSA.” These documents revealed details of secret U.S. eavesdropping programs.
“It has been widely discussed,” he told TV2 on Thursday.
Hjort Frederiksen, 74, was defense minister from November 2016 to June 2019. He also was the chairman of the Danish parliament’s Intelligence Services Committee from 2019 to 2020, and a former minister for finance (2009-2016) and for employment (2001–2009).
Danish media also have speculated that the case could be connected to the December arrest of Denmark’s former foreign intelligence chief. Lars Findsen was held in pre-trial custody on a preliminary charge of “disclosing highly classified information” before an appeals court ordered his release in February.
In Denmark, preliminary charges are one step short of formal charges but allow authorities to keep criminal suspects in custody during an investigation.
Details of the allegations against Findsen, who was suspended in August 2020, also are unknown, and the case has been shrouded in secrecy.