A widowed mother trying to provide a better life for her grieving children sounds like a good start to any week-night family drama. Add an embezzled 117 million, a horse business, a man-hunt in South Africa, a tragic childhood and a failed system, and you end up with the Britta Nielsen trial.
Yesterday the hearing continued with more tearful confessions, apologies and an accusation aimed at the flawed system that could have possibly stopped her from stealing millions of kroner meant for the neediest people in society.
A family affair
Though the exact date is unknown, her crime spree began when her family purchased a home to accommodate Nielsen’s recently moved-in ill parents, which required payments out of their price range. It wasn’t until later in 1997 that Nielsen’s husband found out about her stealing and urged her to return the funds after becoming “angry and scared” – but Nielsen didn’t comply, claiming the return wasn’t feasible within the system.
During her hearing, Nielsen expressed remorse about her husband’s ignorance of the extent of her thievery, which she was able to keep private by funneling into separate accounts from her family’s. Though Nielsen’s total weighed in at 10 million at the time of his death – a hefty amount to keep secret – she credited his ignorance to the fact that they “didn’t talk about it that much”.
In the wake of her husband’s death following heart surgery complications, Nielsen used life insurance as an excuse for the sums of money pouring into her children’s pockets. Additionally, she used the grief as a moral justification for her crimes.
All three of her children are charged with gross robbery, although they are only accused of helping Nielsen to spend it, not steal it. Currently, only her son is in custody. If her children are prosecuted, their case will go to court next March.
In her words, nothing is left from the 117 million kroner that Nielsen has swindled over the past 25 years.
From horses to houses, she and her brood have squandered the lot. But her investments weren’t wise: the more she spent, the more she needed to spend on the upkeep.
The spending – and consequently the stealing – spiraled and maintenance continued as horses were fed and cars were serviced. When asked why she didn’t stop, she claimed she was compelled to keep stealing out of necessity.
A criminal profile
The hearing was Neilsen’s first chance to share her reasons for her crimes. She was not shy in telling the court about her troubled childhood, which served as the basis for her moral vindication.
A mentally-ill mother, extreme poverty and a lack of safety were just a few of the reasons Neilsen gave in her tearful expression of wanting to give her children a better childhood than her own.
She also blamed addiction. Even as feelings of guilt or conscience arose, her urging continued until even she lost track of the colossal amount she had accumulated.
“It had become a sort of addiction,” Nielsen said. “I wished I could own up and say sorry to my family and colleagues. But as I sat in the middle of it, I really thought no-one was missing this money.”
A flaw in the system
Perhaps most shocking were Nielsen’s repeated allegations against the very system she worked for, which provided the lining to her pockets. During the hearing, she criticised the programs of the National Board of Health and Welfare for making her swindling far too easy.
Certainly there is some truth in her allegation: the money wasn’t missed, or at least not noticed enough to be missed. The account balancing was six to eight years behind – a procedural failing that could have realised, stopped, or even prevented Neilsen’s crimes far sooner.
Neilsen insists that she even pushed for further controls and regulations on the very loopholes she took advantage of.
The trial resumes at 9 am on November 22.