Authorities in the US have refused to return 137,000 kroner that was confiscated from a Danish policeman who attempted to legally purchase Cuban cigars from Germany.
Torben Nødskouv intended to resell the cigars through his small business Cigarhuset and made the transaction in dollars with a Hamburg-based distributor. But the transaction, which was automatically routed through the US, was picked up by American authorities who froze the money, arguing that the transaction violated the American trade embargo with Cuba.
Nødskouv appealed after the $20,000 transaction was frozen last autumn, but the money may be permanently lost after he was recently informed that it would not be returned to him.
The intervention of the American authorities in a legal transaction between two European countries has provoked criticism from a range of politicians and experts who argue that the US has overstepped its place in their policing of financial transactions under the guise of fighting terrorism.
Speaking to Berlingske newspaper, the foreign minister, Villy Søvndal, said he was concerned by the Americans' decision, adding that as it was a European issue, it would be brought up by the EU in their running dialogue with the US.
“It is worrying that the US is extraterritorially applying American legislation to regulate business activities outside of the US,” Søvndal said. “I do not think it is fair that the US intervenes with European businesses, especially with a legal transfer of money between two European countries.”
Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen, the former head of the domestic intelligence agency PET, called on Denmark to use its position as EU president to pressure the US into releasing the money.
“The case is an obvious opportunity for the Danish presidency to step up to the plate,” Bonnichsen told Berlingske. “It’s a clear example of the US abusing rules which were implemented to fight terrorism. That the American authorities can stop a completely legal financial transaction between two European countries is an abuse of EU citizens’ rights.”
Nødskouv’s case is not the first time the American authorities have confiscated Danish money. In 2008, dress seller Christa Møllgaard-Hansen from Maribo had 205 dollars frozen after attempting to buy six dresses from Pakistan.
UPDATE 29/2/2012: A US treasury official has told the Copenhagen Post that the Cuban Assets Control Regulations generally prohibit U.S banks and financial institutions from providing financial services related to transactions involving Cuba. They would not comment on individual cases.