Trial against Hjarnø Havbrug collapses as Danish police lose key evidence

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Prosecutors had attempted to get around missing key evidence by using copies. High Court says no. 

On Friday last week in Denmark, a complex case against Hjarnø Havbrug and its owner Anders Østergaard Pedersen, involving millions in fraud, collapsed dramatically after it became clear that police had misplaced key evidence.

The case against Hjarnø Havbrug and its owner – who has some 20 fish farms in the Baltic Sea – originally came to trial in March earlier this year, but the trial was postponed after Danish police misplaced some 77 ring binders of documentary evidence.

Read more: Danish aquaculture business owner pleads not guilty to €25 million environmental crime

False information
Perdersen is accused of having provided false information to both the municipality, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Danish Fisheries Agency during the period 2014-2018 about the supply of juvenile fish by sea farms, production, feed consumption and nutrient discharge. According to the indictment, the company’s fish pens in Horsens Fjord are said to have been filled to bursting point – resulting in unprecedented levels of pollution of the fjord.

Furthermore, Pedersen is accused of having released 373,000 salmon on one of his three aquaculture farms, even though the company only had permits to release trout. The company is accused of having earned €25.4 million as the result of its illegally flushing excess volumes of nitrogen and phosphorus into the ocean.

The trial was originally postponed in March when it first emerged that prosecutors did not have access to the the 77 ring binders of evidence.

Missing evidence
At Friday’s court hearing, instead of the original documents from the missing ring binders, the prosecutors had tried to submit a number of copied documents from the same extensive material – but the original material were still missing. The ring binders, which have been in police custody, seem to have disappeared without trace.

The missing evidence caused the defence to protest, demanding that no copied material from these binders be be admitted in the ongoing case.

While the Court of Appeal did not consider this to be a problem, the defence immediately appealed the case to the High Court which ruled the trial be suspended. The contents of the missing ring binders can not be used until the High Court has reached a decision.

The trial has been annulled and it is expected that the case will not be heard again until the end of September.