Communist. Cabinet member. National threat?
Two decades after the fall of communism, Ole Sohn is finding himself at the centre of a plot worthy of a Cold War thriller. The conclusion of the business and growth ministerÂ’s real life plot, however, may just lie buried in archives that he himself closed to journalists two decades ago.
Sohn, now a member of parliament for theSocialistisk Folkeparti and a cabinet member since October, faced a barrage of questions this past week about the extent of his relationship to the former Soviet Union and whether he poses a security threat to Denmark.
Sohn, a former chairman of Danmarks Kommunistiske Parti (DKP), is being accused of accepting 5.2 million kroner in cash from Moscow on behalf of the party, money never declared to the tax authorities.
He denies ever accepting direct financial support from the Soviet Union, but if Sohn is lying, his political opponents argue, he presents a security risk. They reason that Russia, which may have evidence of SohnÂ’s complicity, could blackmail the business and growth minister for favourable trade deals in exchange for keeping quiet.
MoscowÂ’s close relationship with the DKP Â– which Sohn led between 1987 and 1991 Â– is no secret. A 2001 book entitled Â‘Guldet fra MoskvaÂ’ (The Gold from Moscow), outlined how former chairmen of the DKP, JÃ¸rgen Jensen and Knud Jespersen, both accepted cash via the KGB to support the party.
Nikolai Shatskikh, the KGBÂ’s man in Copenhagen in the late 1980s, as well as former DKP party secretary, Bo Rosschou, both confirmed the transactions in Jyllands-Posten newspaper last week.
Rosschou explained that former DKP chairman Jensen admitted to accepting large sums of cash shortly before his death in 1987. And Shatskikh explained how he would hand over the cash to top members of the DKP in his office in the Soviet embassy.
But Sohn denies ever meeting Shatskikh to receive cash, or of even knowing about the existence of the money, despite documents published in Â‘Guldet fra MoskvaÂ’, leaked from within the Communist Party archive, that show an Â‘O. SohnÂ’ signed off seven payments worth 5.2 million kroner.
Sohn has argued the money can be accounted for through indirect support the DKP received from Moscow in his time as chairman. This was done by deliberately overcharging them to print the party newspaper Â‘Land & FolkÂ’ at the partyÂ’s press Terpo Tryk.
Â“ItÂ’s obvious money was rolling in. Otherwise Land & Folk and Terpo Press couldnÂ’t have existed,Â” he told B.T. tabloid last October, but adding he never handled any money. Â“I have never personally received a single krone. But itÂ’s correct that the DKP received large quantities of money even while I was chairman.Â”
But SohnÂ’s political opponents believe he is lying and that he personally handled the money, something the Danish tax authorities would not take kindly to. So in an attempt to pin Sohn to the cash handovers, reporters from Jyllands-Posten travelled to Moscow to meet with Shatskikh to see if he could remember handing money to Sohn.
But they were out of luck. Shatskikh remembered handing over money in his office in the Soviet embassy to chairmen of the DKP until 1991, but he could not confirm whether Sohn ever accepted the money. Shatskikh did add that in principle, it must have been Sohn he handed the money over to, as that was protocol, but he could not recognise Sohn in a photograph.
Shatskikh explained that the protocol required that a receipt signed by the DKP chairman was returned to Moscow as proof of the transaction. If the journalists were to prove Sohn had handled the money, they needed to find the receipts.
With the Communist Party archive in Moscow closed to the public, the last remaining avenue of enquiry would be the DKPÂ’s archives. And yet these archives are also off-limits. In 1989 Sohn transferred the DKPÂ’s archives into the library of the WorkersÂ’ Museum, whose current archivist, Jesper JÃ¸rgensen, told radio station Radio 24syv this week that Sohn left strict instructions that journalists were not allowed access. This deal remains in place 21 years later.
JÃ¸rgensen has already denied access to Jyllands-Posten, Berlingske and B.T. newspapers, arguing it was never the point of the archive to be examined by journalists. But opposition parties, Konservative, Venstre and Dansk Folkeparti believe that as head of the largest labour-oriented party, Socialdemokraterne, PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt should open the archives.
I think it would natural that she opened up the archive in the name of the free press and ensure that everyone has access,Â” MP SÃ¸ren Pind (Venstre) told Berlingske.
Thorning-Schmidt has not responded to the demand, instead choosing to voice her full support for beleaguered colleague. So with the doors to DKPÂ’s archive firmly shut, that might the end of the story. Except that Thorning-Schmidt promised during the election that investigations into party financing can be carried out if there is support of 40 percent of parliament.
The proposal was to ensure accountability of the majority by the minority, and has since been brought back to the table by both Enhedslisten and Dansk Folkeparti. And with Konservative, Venstre and Dansk Folkeparti all calling for an investigation, it has the support of 43 percent of parliament.
But not everyone in opposition thinks itÂ’s worth the effort. Simon AmmitzbÃ¸ll from the Liberal Alliance stated in a press release that while Â“it is very likely Ole Sohn accepted money under the table from Moscow,Â” an investigation would be a waste of time.
Â“As business minister he can do far more damage now than he could as chair of the DKP. We would rather concentrate on presenting the damaging effects of SohnÂ’s policies today,Â” AmmitzbÃ¸l wrote.
Sohn is the second minister to come under fire as a security risk this year after Henrik Sass-Larsen, a leading member of Socialdemokraterne, was dropped from consideration for a cabinet seat after revelations he had been involved with a leading member of the Bandidos biker gang.
But while former head of the domestic security agency PET, JÃ¸rgen Bonnichsen, acknowledged to Jyllands-Posten that Sohn is in theory a greater security threat than Sass-Larsen, neither are much cause for concern.
Â“PET is an extraordinarily good intelligence agency that had a good handle on Russian spying in Denmark. So IÂ’m completely sure that thereÂ’s no risk to Ole Sohn.Â”
In fact, the 70 million kroner PET-Kommission, which compiled a comprehensive report into the historical activities of PET, did not publish any evidence that Sohn ever accepted money from the Soviet Union. A fact Sohn has repeatedly drawn attention to.
Â“My past has been examined by [the Danish Institute for International Studies] and the PET-Kommission and I have been security cleared as a minister,Â” Sohn told Jyllands-Posten. Â“I have nothing to hide.Â”
Sohn claims he had no insight into the DKPÂ’s finances until 1990 after he won full power of the organisation. After wrestling control, he closed their printing press and paper and established Enhedslisten, an alliance of left-wing parties that includes the DKP.
Whether thatÂ’s the whole story remains unknown. But if there are any answers to be found they probably remain hidden behind the locked doors of the DKPÂ’s archives, with the only set of keys held safely in Thorning-SchmidtÂ’s hand.
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