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South African Police Apprehend Danish Civil Servant Accused of Stealing Millions in Public Funds

After a six-week search, Danish authorities have discovered a Copenhagen bureaucrat hiding in South Africa after allegedly embezzling tens of millions of dollars. Over at more than 16 years, she reportedly stole more than 111 million kroner ($17 million USD) in public funds meant for welfare programs.

Anna Britta Troelsgaard Nielsen was apprehended on Monday in a suburb of Johannesburg. Nielsen, a 64-year-old civil servant with Denmark’s National Board of Health and Welfare for more than 40 years, is said to have funneled grant money meant for low-income and homeless people, as well as other government programs meant for the underprivileged, into her own bank account, according to DR, Denmark’s public broadcasting corporation.

Nielsen disappeared from Denmark in October and was sought by Interpol. Her family is believed to own several properties in South Africa, according to the Miami Herald.

Mai Mercado, Denmark’s minister for social affairs, called Nielsen “a trusted employee” and said Nielsen had “abused” her job and access to government funds to commit systematic fraud from 2002 to 2018, according to the Herald. Since 2002, at least 274 payments had been made to a private bank account since 2002, according to multiple sources in English and Danish. She may have also been involved in horse trading and seems to have declared personal bankruptcy, according to DR.

It is not yet clear how Nielsen was able to steal so much money and go undetected for so long, though numerous news reports note she had become a “superuser” and thus had great access to the agency’s computer system.

A man thought to be Nielsen’s accomplice was also apprehended last week. After his arrest, another person tried to deliver a bag to him that contained, among other items, two diamonds, according to DR. It’s not yet clear if the suspect in custody knew about the diamonds, but it certainly makes this case a lot stranger than it already was.

(The man’s name has not yet been revealed, a common practice in Danish media in which a judge issues an injunction to keep the names of individuals out of the press unless convicted. Nielsen’s name was never under injunction as she held a trusted position in government that she subsequently abused, according to DR.)

Danish authorities have requested Nielsen be extradited back to Denmark to face charges.