COPENHAGEN (AP): A right-wing Danish lawmaker was acquitted Wednesday of misusing European Union funds worth 98,835 kroner ($14,105) and falsifying documents.
A Copenhagen court found Morten Messerschmidt, who heads the once powerful Danish People’s Party, not guilty of making false statements about holding an EU conference in 2015 in order to receive EU funding. He maintained his innocence throughout his trial.
“This means a lot. The case has cast long shadows over the Danish People’s Party and me as a politician for seven years and a few months,” Messerschmidt said after the verdict.
Danish prosecutors have not indicated whether they would appeal.
Messerschmidt served in the European Parliament at the time of the alleged crimes. He received more personal votes than any other Danish candidate in the 2014 election for the EU legislature and campaigned on a promise to combat alleged EU fraud.
Another Danish court gave Messerschmidt a suspended sentence in August 2021 in the same case. Because the judge earlier on Facebook had liked comments criticizing Messerschmidt and the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, Messerschmidt was given a retrial on the basis of judicial bias.
In its ruling Wednesday, the Frederiksberg District Court said Messerschmidt, 42, spent EU money on a conference in northern Denmark with his Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy (MELD), a pan-European party which was dissolved in 2015.
The case started after the European Union’s anti-fraud body, OLAF, alleged in 2019 that funds granted by the European Parliament to two pan-European political groups were misused by their members.
But the court acquitted Messerschmidt of using a forged document that he presented as a contract between the Danish People’s Party and the hotel where the MELD conference was held. The contract was signed by the Danish People’s Party’s administrative chief, who purported to be representing the hotel because the party was using the hotel at the same time as MELD.
During the trial, several top Danish People’s Party members and other witnesses contradicted Messerschmidt, who became the party’s chairman earlier this year.
Internal squabbles led to the collapse of the populist party, which spearheaded Denmark’s crackdown on immigration two decades ago. The Scandinavian country has some of Europe’s strictest immigration laws because of the role of the Danish People’s Party.
The party faced competition for nationalist voters from new right-wing parties in this year’s Nov. 1 general election. It received 2.6% of the vote, its worst result since its creation in 1995.