Accused Swindler Faces Extradition

Los Angeles Times/February 23, 2002
By David Rosenzweig

The reclusive founder of a worldwide network of charities was ordered held without bond Friday on an extradition warrant from Denmark, where he has been charged with looting millions of dollars from one of his nonprofit organizations.

Mogens Amdi Petersen, 63, who has lived in seclusion for more than 20 years, was declared to be a "serious flight risk" after a lengthy hearing before U.S. Magistrate Stephen J. Hillman in Los Angeles.

Petersen was arrested last weekend during a stopover at Los Angeles International Airport on a flight from Britain to Mexico. Danish prosecutors have accused him of tax fraud and embezzling about $10 million from a branch of the Tvind organization, which he established during the 1970s to educate troubled youths in Denmark. Since then, the organization has expanded to Africa, Asia, Latin America and the United States, combining philanthropic work with business ventures that include plantations, factories and used-clothing stores.

Petersen attracted hordes of idealistic volunteers who surrendered their Danish government-subsidized salaries to Tvind for the privilege of participating in the movement.

Accused by some critics of operating a cult-like organization, Peterson left his native Denmark about 1980 and went into seclusion, according to Danish authorities.

Until recently, he had been living in secret in a $10-million condominium on Fisher Island, a private retreat off the South Florida coast.

Poul Gade, a Danish prosecutor dispatched to Los Angeles this week, said some of the money Petersen allegedly extorted went to pay for the condo as well as other personal luxuries.

In court, Petersen's lawyer, Robert L. Shapiro, argued that his client was a "philanthropist not a fugitive."

Shapiro offered to produce testimonials from an assortment of African leaders attesting to the work of Petersen's volunteers in running schools and combating AIDS and in public works projects.

He said American friends of Petersen were prepared to post a $1-million bond to secure his release.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Matthew E. Sloan countered that a $1-million bond would not suffice to ensure Petersen's stay in the U.S. His organization, Sloan told the judge, has assets worth more than $100 million and generates millions of dollars in revenue a year.

Moreover, Sloan said, Danish investigators uncovered evidence that Petersen recently applied for citizenship in Zimbabwe and Brazil, which do not have extradition treaties with Denmark.

Hillman set a March 19 date for a status conference on the case. Afterward, the matter will be assigned to a U.S. District Court judge, who will hold an extradition hearing.

Petersen's arrest has drawn more than a dozen Danish journalists to Los Angeles.

"This is our Enron," one television reporter said outside the courtroom Friday. "This guy has been a raging controversy for years. He's front-page news everywhere in Denmark."

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