Main suspect in Danish fraud case held in South African jail

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A Danish woman considered the main suspect in a fraud case that caused a Danish government welfare agency to lose at least 111 million kroner ($17 million) has been arrested in South Africa.

Denmark’s top prosecution authority said Britta Nielsen was arrested Monday in Johannesburg, and Denmark will seek her extradition.

Prosecutor Thomas Anderskov Riis added her arrest was the result of cooperation between Denmark’s Serious Economic and International Crime unit and a series of international authorities that he didn’t name.

Nielsen appeared briefly in Randburg Magistrates’ court in Johannesburg Monday and her case was scheduled to be heard on Thursday, according to South African media. She will be held in Pretoria Central Prison. Nielsen was shown with a jacket over her head, being led by authorities. When she appeared in court, her hair was dyed black, she was wearing a blue blouse and she looked tired, according to media reports.

On Thursday, a man suspected in the same case also was arrested in South Africa.

Nielsen, a 64-year-old civil servant for 40 years with the National Board of Health and Welfare, is suspected of stealing money intended to help vulnerable people, including the homeless and disabled.

Shortly before the fraud was made public last month, Nielsen vanished from Denmark and was sought via Interpol. According to Danish media, her family owns several properties in South Africa.

On Oct. 10. Denmark’s minister for children and social affairs, Mai Mercado, said Nielsen, whom she described as “a trusted employee,” had “abused” her position to commit systematic fraud from 2002 to 2018.

It was not clear how Nielsen stole the money, but it appears she had privileged access to the agency’s computer system.

A preliminary probe by the Ministry for Children and Social Affairs says that at least 274 money transfers were made during the period to accounts in Nielsen’s name, instead of to the intended accounts.


Olsen reported from Copenhagen, Denmark

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