Denmark’s top prosecuting authority is to seek to have a former defense minister’s parliamentary lift immunity so he can be charged with illegally disclosing “highly classified information”.
The office of the director of public prosecutions said it would contact the Folketing, Denmark’s parliament, about the immunity of Claus Hjort Frederiksen, the country’s defense minister from November 2016 to June 2019.
Details of the accusations against Frederiksen could not be given owing to “the special nature of the case”, which involves sensitive information, the Danish justice ministry said in a statement.
Frederiksen, a senior member of Denmark’s opposition Venstre party, faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted of the unauthorized disclosure of highly classified information.
Danish media have speculated that the case could be linked to claims that Denmark’s foreign secret service helped the US spy on European leaders, including the former German chancellor Angela Merkel.
In a December television interview, Frederiksen spoke about a secret eavesdropping deal the US 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 US, he said.
The Danish broadcaster DR has reported that the Danish Defense Intelligence Service conducted an internal investigation in 2014 into whether the US National Security Agency (NSA) had used its cooperation with the Danes to spy on Denmark and neighboring countries, concluding that the NSA eavesdropped on political leaders and officials in Germany, France, Sweden and Norway.
Frederiksen responded to prosecutors’ moves by attacking the governing Social Democrats. “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 the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet.
Preliminary charges are one step short of formal charges in Denmark, but allow authorities to keep criminal suspects in custody during an investigation.