Taxgate: Just who is Troels Lund Poulsen?

The precocious—and controversial—career of Venstre’s prodigal heir

Until just a couple weeks ago, the 35-year-old MP Troels Lund Poulsen was considered by many insiders to be Venstre’s crown prince, the likely—if controversial—successor to party leader and ex-prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

But that was then and this is now.

On Sunday afternoon, Poulsen announced that he was taking an unpaid leave of absence from parliament to deal with charges that, as tax minister, he—or his special counsel and spin doctor, Peter Arnfeldt—allegedly tried to influence the outcome of the tax audit of Venstre’s primary political opponent, now-PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne) and her husband Stephen Kinnock. According to the charges, Arnfeldt then, allegedly, illegally peddled the audit to the media in the run-up to the September election.

If the allegations turn out to be true, Poulsen could go down in history for one of the worst abuses of power in modern Danish politics, as well as one of its worst-ever media scandals.

“Denmark isn’t a banana republic … but since Friday a lot of people are beginning to wonder,” wrote the financial newspaper Børsen’s commentator Helle Ib.

Poulsen first became politically active at 16, when he joined VenstreÂ’s youth organisation Venstres Ungdom. A few years later, he was its national chairman.

His first and only non-elected jobs were as assistant to Venstre’s press chief, Michael Kristiansen, and as press coordinator for the Danish development firm Ørestadsselskabet—two positions where he presumably learned the art of spin doctoring.

In 2001, at age 25, Poulsen was elected to parliament. Just six years later, he was appointed to his first of three minister posts.

Yet despite his meteoric rise in Venstre, PoulsenÂ’s political career has also been characterised by controversy.

During his first minister post as environmental minister from 2007 to 2010, he brokered a deal to import and store the poisonous waste material hexachlorbenzene (HCB), a known animal carcinogen, from Australia. HCB is banned under the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. It was also during that time that Poulsen was widely criticized for accepting the gift of a 65,000 kroner Rolex watch from the king of Saudi Arabia, the leader of the world’s second largest oil-exporting nation—and for then refusing to release his tax return to prove that he had claimed the expensive gift.

From 2010 to early 2011, Poulsen was tax minister—a job he had appeared to carry out without controversy until the current allegations surfaced last month.

In March, 2011, Poulsen was made education minister. Ironically, that appointment was the result of another Venstre-government ignominy—the Immigration Ministry’s stateless citizenship scandal—which forced the then-PM Rasmussen to fire his immigration minister Birthe Rønn Hornbech (V), and reshuffle his cabinet.

During his seven months as education minister, Poulsen—who never finished his history studies and left university without a degree—was lampooned as the ‘uneducated education minister’.

PolitikenÂ’s Annelise Hartmann Eskesen quipped that he just might have the opportunity to finish his history degree now that his future in politics is looking less promising.

Venstre’s political spokesperson Ellen Trane Nørby said that to her knowledge the decision to take a leave of absence from parliament came from Poulsen himself—not Venstre’s top.

The government is establishing an independent commission to investigate the extent of the tax ministryÂ’s scandal and to determine how many others were involved in the alleged Machiavellian plot.

“Only a few days ago a story like this about political corruption in Denmark would have been treated as absurd speculation. Now we know that it actually happened,” wrote Politiken’s editor-in-chief Bo Lidegaard over the weekend.

“What remains is to get to the bottom of the case, so that everybody who took part in the abuse of power, leaks and illegalities is held responsible.”

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