The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Denmark is facing a political firestorm involving an Israeli defense contractor.

For nearly a year, Denmark’s political scene has been quietly roiled by a crisis of ethics and accountability, though it has scarcely registered in international headlines. This crisis revolves around a contentious arms procurement from Elbit Systems, an Israeli defence contractor, by Denmark’s Ministry of Defence. This transaction has unearthed questions about the integrity of a government typically championed for its high ethical standards.

The controversy entered the public domain in March when Elbit announced a $252 million agreement with Denmark for 19 ATMOS howitzers and 8 PULS rocket artillery systems. These were to replace Denmark’s CAESAR howitzers, earmarked for Ukraine. The deal, initially justified by favorable costs and prompt delivery schedules, came under intense scrutiny by the Danish news outlet Altinget. The fallout saw the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen in October, after a political scandal that has engulfed Danish politics for months.

The unraveling began when Ellemann-Jensen, leading the liberal Venstre party and serving as Minister of Defence, was revealed to have disseminated false data to the parliament. He claimed that competitive bids had been received from Elbit, the Korean company Hanwha, and the French corporation Nexter. However, Altinget’s investigation, made public in early June, contradicted these claims. “It undermines the entire premise of why we chose the system we chose. It is reprehensible. It is simply manipulation,” vociferated Anne Valentina Berthelsen, of the Socialist People’s Party, upon learning the truth.

Moreover, the Folketing’s Finance Committee, tasked with vetting each proposal and selecting a supplier, was cornered into a decision within an unreasonably short timeframe. The hasty process drew ire from committee members and other parliamentarians alike. “I can’t believe that the rest of the members of the Finance Committee accept such a way of working, because it shows that they don’t take their work seriously. That they put up with such poor conditions that they don’t have time to read things and don’t have time to talk to anyone about it,” lambasted Rasmus Jarlov, a member of the Folketing for the Conservative People’s Party.

Feeling duped, members of the Folketing expressed their dismay, declaring that their consent to the Elbit agreement was predicated on a misapprehension. “We gave our commitment to this purchase based on the understanding that it was really the only option available. The Israelis were the only ones who could deliver within the required timeframe at a reasonable price,” Martin Lidegaard, leader of the Social Liberal Party, regretted, suggesting that had they been fully informed, the decision might have been different. He said that his party would “definitely not have agreed to buy the Israeli artillery” if they had known that the Ministry of Defence had not called for tenders from other weapons manufacturers. “We gave our commitment to this purchase based on the understanding that it was really the only option available.”

At the vortex of the debacle is the Danish Ministry of Defence Acquisition and Logistics Organisation (DALO), which has been fingered for disseminating the erroneous information to the Folketing. The Ministry of Defence’s Permanent Secretary, Morten Bæk, initially pointed the finger at DALO, declaring that the organization had expressed contrition for its lack of precision regarding the tenders’ validity.

Scrutiny of DALO’s conduct had begun as early as January, particularly its clearance of Elbit, which has been blacklisted by Danish pension funds for suspected human rights abuses. “It seems very unbelievable and completely incomprehensible to me. If you can exonerate Elbit Systems based on their track record, the principles underlying the analysis must be wrong,” argued Leila Stockman, a former Red-Green Alliance member of the Folketing and a scholar of the Israeli arms industry, casting doubt on DALO’s vindication of Elbit.

In a report by Morten Bæk to Ellemann-Jensen, a litany of mistakes was laid bare, including the dismissal of a viable offer from Nexter and the misrepresentation of the urgency of the Elbit contract. The report, revealing that the deadline was more about delivery guarantees than the offers’ legal expiration, led to Bæk’s dismissal in August, following Altinget’s expose which castigated the investigation as partisan.

More incriminating evidence surfaced over the summer, hinting that this was not merely a procedural faux pas, but indicative of a systemic failure involving senior government officials. “It is aggravating for the seriousness of the affair that it was not just the youngest clerk who knew, but at the very highest level, they knew the correct deadline,” revealed Dennis Flydtkjær, a member of the Folketing for the Danish People’s Party.

This evolving quagmire has precipitated an enlarged legal inquiry, now delving into the government’s overall role in the misinformation campaign. “It is clear that the Ministry of State and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were involved in a cover-up in which we received incorrect information,” accused Morten Messerschmidt, leader of the Danish People’s Party. By October’s end, a consensus had been reached among the SVM government and multiple opposition parties to commission a comprehensive legal investigation into the affair, including Ellemann-Jensen’s involvement, with findings anticipated by April 2024. Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen sanctioned the investigation, citing “a number of unanswered questions.”

The diligent inquiry by Altinget’s journalists, Katrine Lønstrup, Kasper Frandsen, and Andreas Krog, which has brought them Graver prize nominations for investigative journalism, underscores the significance of their pursuit. Yet as the Western media landscape is consumed with economic and geopolitical crises, the fear that Denmark may attempt to obscure this scandal looms large, potentially relegating it to a footnote in a decade fraught with political turmoil. It’s a somber moment for Denmark, a nation often celebrated for its stand against corruption.

John Truman is retired from the business world, having spent his life shuttling between the United States and Europe, with some experience in the Middle East, in the field of international trade. His experience and connections have given him a thorough understanding of Northern European societies.