OFF THE WIRE
BY: Jennifer Buley
Politician whose career was sidelined because of biker connection speaks out
One month after watching his political career blow up overnight, the Social Democrats’ former political spokesperson Henrik Sass Larsen has released a record of the events that led to his resignation and withdrawal as a ministerial candidate.
Larsen has also released the actual text messages he says were grounds for his failure to pass domestic security agency PET’s standard clearance for prospective ministers.
However, the text messages he released hint at a different story than the one he presented last month, say experts.
As the then righthand man for current prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Henrik Sass Larsen was a sure bet to receive an important ministerial post in the new coalition government. But PET’s standard security check – a prerequisite for ministerial appointments – revealed a tenuous, but problematic, connection to a notorious gang leader.
PET discovered that in May Larsen briefly met with Torben Ohlsen-Nielsen, also known as ‘Suzuki Torben’, the leader of a crime syndicate in Køge, the Bandidos biker gang. After the meeting in a public restaurant, which also included Larsen’s good friend and local Køge politician Tommy Kamp, Larsen and Ohlsen-Nielsen exchanged a couple of text messages.
In April, Kamp resigned as the Social Dem’s local chairman for Køge after Murat Kitir and Ertugrul Karahan, the owners of a local restaurant called Cafe Vanilla, accused Kamp of extortion. Significantly Murat Kitir also told police he had supplied both Kamp and Larsen with drugs. Indictments for ‘Vanilla-gate’ are expected in early November, according to the Mid- and West-Zealand Police.
When Larsen failed PET’s security check and stepped down as the Social Dem’s spokesperson and a ministerial candidate on September 29th, he claimed it was because he met Ohlsen-Nielsen once – at the biker’s request – regarding a personal, child-custody case.
But the text messages Larsen has now released to Weekendavisen newspaper suggest a different scenario, say experts.
“Hi Sass... talked to Murat afterwards... Told him to shut up... They can just get lost... Remember Sass... we’re the strongest,” Ohlsen-Nielsen wrote in his text message to Larsen, following their meeting.
Larsen replied: “Hey. Tommy says hi. We’re sitting here in Køge enjoying ourselves. Everything’s fine. Sass.”
According to Larsen, PET misunderstood the import of the messages, and assumed they showed that he might be indebted to the gang leader for protection.
While acknowledging that he could see how they could be interpreted that way, Larsen maintained that his reply to Ohlsen-Nielsen was just a “friendly reply”.
But if Ohlsen-Nielsen was not protecting him, Larsen’s texted response was very strange indeed, said law professor Eva Smith from the University of Copenhagen.
“If someone had written something like that to me, I would have replied, ‘What's this about?’ ” Smith told Politiken. “It incriminates him, definitely.”
Ohlsen-Nielsen himself said Larsen was not telling the truth.
The gang leader told the tabloid B.T. and TV2 News that Kamp called him to come down to the restaurant where he and Larsen were sitting on May 20 to “protect” them from some people from Cafe Vanilla.
Kamp made it clear that he wanted protection then and there, Ohlsen-Nielsen told the media.
Larsen’s just-released report of the events leading up to his resignation indicates that the parliamentary ombudsmen and PET authorities emphasised that he had not broken any laws, but that his connection with Ohlsen-Nielsen was nevertheless a security risk.
According to former PET chief Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen, who commented on the case in September, Larsen’s close relationship with scandal-ridden Kamp was perhaps an even bigger liability than his brief acquaintance with Ohlsen-Nielsen.
The ombudsmen who advised Larsen of the situation emphasised that the decision that he was a security risk was a “political judgment” based in part on confidential information that might change over time.
Larsen apparently asked if his own clarification of the situation could be taken into account, but was told that the judgment was not negotiable and could not be appealed.
Venstre’s Søren Pind is one of several opposition MPs who have called on Thorning-Schmidt and Morten Bødskov, the justice minister, to explain precisely which types of contacts can result in failing a PET security check.
Other controversial points, according to the report Larsen released on Friday, is that the failed security clearance was allegedly based on confidential information, and not subject to appeal.
“The case is indeed that he [Larsen] doesn’t have any rights,” Pind told Politiken.dk. “As a colleague, I can say that that isn’t a sustainable situation for any of us [MPs].”
So far, Thorning-Schmidt and the justice minister have refused to comment on the case.