Five dinners totaling 180,000 kroner have cost Uffe Elbæk (Radikale) his job as culture minister.
Elbæk found himself in the centre of a political storm this week after it emerged that he had spent 180,000 kroner on five official dinners and meetings at Akademiet for Utæmmet Kreativitet (AFUK), an art school where his husband is employed, and where he himself was a member of the board.
On Tuesday, he was called in to a four-hour meeting that cast further doubt on his explanations for the dinner. Prior to the meeting, Elbæk told assembled media that he had discussed the five lavish dinners with officials from his minstry, who raised no concerns. Following the meeting, however, Elbæk changed his tune and said that he had in fact been warned about the dinners.
“There was a ministry official who was good enough to pull me aside and say: ‘Uffe, we need to discuss this. In the long-term, this isn’t very smart’,” Elbæk said. “And I completely agree with him.”
That change in explanation led far-left party Enhedslisten and opposition party Venstre to call for the national auditor’s office, Rigsrevisionen, to investigate the case. It also reportedly cost Elbæk the backing of key allies in the government.
Perhaps reading the writing on the wall, late this afternoon Elbæk decided to step down as culture minister.
“This afternoon I have made a very difficult, but right, decision and have told the prime minister that I wish to resign as culture minister,” Elbæk wrote on Facebook. “The decision was difficult because I love my job, my colleagues in the ministry and the ministerial environment. It was correct because I don’t want this current issue regarding my priorities in regards to AFUK to overshadow the important projects that the government is working to achieve.”
The prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne), released a statement shortly after saying that “it was Uffe Elbæk’s own decision” to resign.
“I have been happy to have him on the team and to work with him,” Thorning-Schmidt’s statement read. “He has made a great and very engaged contribution as the culture minister.”
Even while stepping down, Elbæk insisted that while he may have “lacked political judgement”, as he told TV2 News on Tuesday night, he did not hold the official dinners at AFUK to benefit his husband’s employer.
“As I have said the entire time, I regret what happened with AFUK,” he continued. “I was forward with all of the information and at no point did I make any decisions were due to cronyism or nepotism.”
Elbæk ended his statement by saying that the media attention had become too much for his husband and therefore he had decided to step down in order to “stand up for … my husband”.