A top Danish law enforcement official says Mexico has refused his request to arrest a fugitive who the Danes say ran a fraudulent charity network.
His comments follow a recent investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, which raised additional questions about the network’s use of U.S. foreign aid funds.
“For the time being, (Mexico is) a safe haven for him,” said Morten Niels Jakobsen, chief of the Danish Justice Ministry’s financial crimes division, which has sought Mexico’s help in arresting Mogens Amdi Petersen, an Interpol fugitive wanted for embezzlement and tax evasion.
In Denmark, Petersen is famous for founding the Teachers Group in 1970. Some longtime members say that what began as an idealistic commune focused on uplifting the developing world devolved into a neo-Maoist secret society devoted to extracting money from Western nations.
Today, followers manage for-profit companies around the world and oversee humanitarian aid charities.
Danish prosecutors say the charities were created as a ruse to divert money into the businesses and offshore shell companies, executing a plan Petersen has described as a “twisted access path with only ourselves as compass holders.”
Danish charging documents allege Petersen’s organization evaded taxes by sheltering money in charities that didn’t always serve the greater good.
On June 23, Danish television channel DR3 shot video of Petersen, 77, walking on the Mexican Baja California coast toward an elaborate polished stone-and-glass compound that serves as a Teachers Group headquarters. The channel found Petersen while filming a five-part television series, “Find Amdi.”
Petersen and several of his followers were acquitted of fraud charges in 2006 by a municipal court in Ringkøbing, Denmark. One admitted to minor fraud charges.
Denmark’s public prosecutor for serious economic and international crime immediately appealed the verdict to a higher court and obtained convictions against one Teachers Group defendant who remained in Denmark. But around the time of the appeal, Petersen left the country.
One of the group who stayed behind was convicted and sentenced to prison in 2009 on the same fraud charges.
In 2013, a Danish court ordered Petersen and four others to return to Denmark to stand trial, and Interpol posted a bulletin for their arrest. Learning of the compound in Baja, Danish police asked for help from Mexico in bringing the fugitive to justice.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen earlier this year asked Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to reject a request by Petersen for Mexican residency on humanitarian grounds. Becoming a resident would allow him to avoid extradition.
Peña Nieto said in an April press conference that his country had not granted Petersen’s request. But Jakobsen, the Danish law enforcement official, said Mexican officials since have declined further help on the grounds that the lower court acquittal precludes extradition.
A Mexican Embassy spokeswoman in Washington and press representatives at the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco did not respond to requests for comment.
In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service has allocated more than $133 million since 2004 to Planet Aid, a Teachers Group-associated charity based in Maryland.
Planet Aid uses the USDA money to contract with another organization run by Teachers Group members, Development Aid from People to People (better known as DAPP), on projects in Malawi and Mozambique. Subsistence farmers targeted to benefit from the U.S. funds told Reveal that they did not receive all of the seeds, water pumps, livestock and other benefits described in official USDA reports.
Current and former DAPP employees told Reveal that the U.S.-funded Planet Aid/DAPP operation was part of a systematic fraud.
Some African Teachers Group members and DAPP employees recounted being flown to Petersen’s Mexican compound to receive instructions about running commercial enterprises and operating charities. Documents handed out at these meetings described Petersen’s plan to maximize “production” – which DAPP employees said was the leader’s term for making money from charities and businesses to be deposited in private Teachers Group accounts.
Last week, Planet Aid denied those and other allegations in a lawsuit it filed against The Center for Investigative Reporting.
Reaction to the reporting has been swift and far reaching:
- Last spring, UNICEF investigated DAPP Malawi programs it was supporting and in July suspended funding for those projects.
- Following an Aug. 2 BBC broadcast, produced in partnership with Reveal, the U.K.’s Department for International Development announced it would suspend funding to DAPP Malawi and launch its own investigations.
- On Aug. 17, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., delivered strongly worded letters to the USDA’s inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, urging investigations.
Jakobsen told reporters with DR3 that he still holds out hope that the Teachers Group leader will be returned to Denmark for trial.
“Authorities in other countries still have an obligation to catch him, for example, in the airport,” he said. “I think it is a pity to not have a case in Denmark for the time being. But I hope it is possible one day.”
This story was edited by Robert J. Rosenthal and Amy Pyle and copy edited by Nikki Frick.