US freezing Danes’ money

A Lolland dress shop owner has had a payment for six dresses made in Pakistan frozen by the US on fears that it is being used to support terrorism

The US government has taken the step of freezing a $205 payment from a Danish clothing boutique to a dress manufacturer in Pakistan, reports Berlingske Tidende newspaper.

Christa Møllgaard-Hansen, owner of Christabella's in the town of Maribo on Lolland, routinely buys women's clothing and shoes from around the world to resell in Denmark. But a recent purchase of six dresses from Pakistan for $205 was considered by the American authorities to be money going to support terrorists.

The US froze the funds four months ago and contacted Møllgaard-Hansen's bank, saying they wanted more information on the payment's recipient. Møllgaard-Hansen had put all the necessary information into the original netbank payment, but complied with her bank's request for the additional information.

A few days later, the bank contacted Møllgaard-Hansen and said the Americans were now requesting the birth date of her contact in Pakistan, named Rashid. It was at that point the bank told her that the US authorities suspected the money was going to support terrorist activities.

'At first I thought it was some kind of sick joke,' said Møllgaard-Hansen. 'But later I was just angry that the Americans could conduct that kind of surveillance on us and require such information. What was I supposed to say to Rashid? That the US suspected him of being a terrorist? I couldn't do that.'

Many politicians are now asking the same questions and want some clear answers from the Liberal-Conservative government. But the Liberal's legal spokesman, Kim Andersen, saw nothing wrong with the US' confiscation of Danes' money.

'We've consciously given our allowance that money transfers should be monitored,' said Andersen. 'Terror has to be pursued in all its disguises and this case is an example of the price we have to pay for those efforts.'

Møllgaard-Hansen said she was surprised that such a small sum could be made into such a big issue, but was happy that the amount was not a larger one which could have caused her serious financial problems – unlike drilling engineer Sigurd Solem's experience with the US Treasury Departments’ Office of Foreign Assets Control, where $16,000 of an employee's pay was confiscated by the American agency.

'It was in 2002 and I was sending the money to England to cover the salary for a geologist who had worked for me on a project in Libya,' said Solem.

After a few weeks, Solem found out that the money had not reached its intended recipient.

'Then I got a message from my bank saying that the money had been frozen by the US on the suspicion it was supporting a terrorist organisation,' he said.

Solem said he considered suing the US Embassy in Denmark, but eventually wrote off the loss.

'You can't fight that kind of power,' said Solem. 'But after three years the money suddenly showed up again in my account.'

The US authorities have conducted surveillance on transactions made through the Swift bank transfer system since the 11 September attacks in 2001. The EU became aware of the monitoring in 2006 but made an agreement with the US that the surveillance could continue.

Opposition parties have now requested an official response on the issue from the justice and business and economic ministries.