COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A rarely used impeachment court in Denmark convicted a former immigration minister Monday over a 2016 order to separate asylum-seeking couples when one of the partners was a minor.
The Danish parliament voted to try Inger Stoejberg after a parliament-appointed commission said that separating couples in asylum centers was “clearly illegal” and that staff members in her ministry had warned her the practice was unlawful.
The Court of Impeachment convened for the first time in 26 years to consider charges against Stoejberg, who maintained her innocence throughout the trial that started Sept. 2.
The court convicted her of “intentionally or through gross negligence neglecting the duties” of her office and providing parliament ”with incorrect or misleading information.” It sentenced her to 60 days’ detention. It was unclear if she would be jailed or would be fitted with an electronic monitoring bracelet to serve her sentence at home.
“Whether it is two or four months is not crucial to us,” prosecutor Jon Lauritzen told reporters. “The fact that she was found guilty because there was intent has been crucial.”
Court President Thomas Roerdam said one judge argued for Stoejberg’s acquittal, but he didn’t name the judge. The verdict cannot be appealed.
Stoejberg, who received flowers from supporters after the court delivered its decision, said she was “very, very surprised by the verdict” but would serve her sentence. Defense lawyer Rene Offersen called it “a disappointing outcome.”
Stoejberg was accused of misleading parliamentary committees four times while informing them about the separation policy she adopted as minister. It will now be up to fellow lawmakers to decide whether she can continue to serve as a member of the 179-seat Folketing.
She served as minister for immigration, integration and housing from 2015 to 2019 as part of Denmark’s previous center-right government.
Considered an immigration hardliner, Stoejberg spearheaded the tightening of asylum and immigration rules. A 2016 law required newly arrived asylum-seekers to hand over valuables such as jewelry and gold to help pay for their stays in the country.
Stoejberg has said she initiated the policy of separating minors from their partners out of concerns the relationships may have involved forced marriages. Twenty-three couples were split up before the policy was halted months later.
Most of the women among the separated couples were ages 15-17, while the men ranged in age from 15 to 32. Most of the couples originally were from Syria. Officials said some couples arrived in Denmark with children or while the woman was pregnant.
In Denmark, the legal age of marriage is 18. The women who were under 18 said they had consented to their marriages.
Since the 2019 election that brought the Social Democrats to power, immigration has become a less pressing issue in Danish politics.
The Court of Impeachment, which adjudicates cases in which government ministers are accused of unlawful misconduct and misuse of office, was last used in 1995. That year, former Justice Minister Erik Ninn-Hansen was given a suspended four-month sentence for having prevented Sri Lankan refugees from bringing their families to Denmark.
The court consists of 15 Supreme Court judges and 15 members appointed by parliament. Since it was created in 1849, the court has considered five cases and Stoejberg’s case is the third to result in a guilty verdict.
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