Denmark charges ex-defence minister with leaking state secrets

FILE PHOTO: Denmark’s Defence Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen speaks during a press conference after the official ceremony welcoming the deployment of a multi-national NATO battalion in Tapa

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark's former defence minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said on Tuesday he had been formally charged with leaking highly classified state secrets by the public prosecutor.

Frederiksen, who served as defence minister from 2016 to 2019, was charged under a rarely used section of the penal code that carries a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison, the prosecutor said, without giving the defendant's name.

Frederiksen confirmed on Facebook that he had been charged, but denied any wrongdoing.

The prosecutor's statement did not disclose the precise charges but said the defendant had "in multiple cases divulged or passed on state secrets".

After facing preliminary charges last year, Frederiksen suggested to local media they were based on public statements made by him about a secret surveillance agreement between Denmark and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

In September, the suspended chief of Denmark's foreign intelligence unit was charged under the same section of the law with leaking classified information. He also denied wrongdoing.

The cases have laid bare an intelligence scandal that has roiled the Nordic country, including the revelation of how the NSA tapped Danish cables to spy on senior officials of neighbouring countries.

"It was common knowledge since 2013 that this collaboration existed," Frederiksen said in a video posted by newspaper B.T. on Tuesday.

"So who revealed this collaboration? It was the Americans themselves, because it was documents from the NSA that (Edward) Snowden published," Frederiksen told the newspaper.

His protection from prosecution due to parliamentary immunity was removed after he did not run for re-election in November.

The prosecutor asked for the hearings to be conducted behind closed doors.

(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Alison Williams)