‘Cult school’ leader sentenced to prison

Tvind leader Mogens Amdi Petersen sentenced in absentia to a year for financial crimes

One of Denmark’s most wanted men and four co-defendants were sentenced for financial crimes and remanded to custody by the Western High Court in Aarhus yesterday.

There is only one small problem: no one is exactly sure where Mogens Amdi Petersen and his four cohorts might be.

The court accepted the prosecution’s request to have the 74-year-old Petersen and the others be sentenced because they failed to appear for the criminal proceedings for embezzlement and tax evasion.

The five are all hiding in unknown locations abroad.

SEE RELATED: Humanitarian fraudster convicted

In 2006, a lower court acquitted Petersen and three of his co-defendants of financial crimes in connection with the Tvind Humanitarian Fund, which is an outgrowth of the controversial Tvind school for teachers.

A sixth defendant was given a suspended sentence for embezzlement during the 2006 trial. The prosecution appealed to the High Court at the time, but with the remaining defendants all in hiding, the case did not get much traction. A seventh defendant did wind up being convicted by the Eastern High Court in 2009.

Debate has raged for years as to whether Tvind, the western Jutland school that reformed the Danish educational system though out the ‘70s and ‘80s is a boon to the country‘s school system or little more than a hippie cult that has diminished the quality of education.

International arrests possible

Thursday’s ruling allows for a European arrest warrant to be issued and the possibility of the fugitives being arrested by local authorities in any of the 26 European Schengen countries or the 120 countries worldwide that co-operate with Interpol.

“Immediately after the court’s ruling, we started the procedures to have an international arrest warrant issued,” Jens Madsen, head of the national police unit combatting financial crimes, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

The court ruled that there was reason to suspect that the five had embezzled millions of kroner from the Tvind Fund in the 1990s and that they have avoided criminal proceedings, making them eligible for incarceration.

Defenders of the five testified that it would be unfair to arrest them after so many years. The court rejected that argument and refused to take into account the 11 months that Petersen was in custody after he was arrested in the US and extradited to Denmark before the lower court case was heard.

A Danish bandito in Mexico                                                  

Petersen’s exact location is unknown, but a former colleague said he had visited him at a home on the grounds of the Tvind International School in Las Pulgas, Mexico, located about 120 kilometres form the US border.

Madsen declined to say whether he would ask Mexican authorities to find Petersen.

Mexico co-operates with Interpol, so an arrest there would be valid. Should Petersen be arrested there – or anywhere else – the next step would be to ascertain if Denmark has an extradition treaty with the country concerned.

There is no extradition treaty between Denmark and Mexico.

Fact file | Tvind

– The Tvind Corporation began as the Tvind travelling school, an educational system based on the concept of a rural collective. The school was seen as a pioneer in social development and environmental projects

– After receiving considerable public funding, the school expanded internationally under the Teachers Group, eventually becoming a global corporation

– Aid organisation Humana People to People is an offshoot of the Tvind Corporation

– Petersen allegedly owned two luxury apartments in Miami and one of the world’s largest yachts

– Tvind has often been referred to as a cult, due to its alleged use of force to ensure its ‘collective status’