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Crossing Continents Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 12:58 GMT
Denmark's Tvind
Tvind
The Tvind symbol: the windmill
Tvind has been accused of being a cult and is being investigated for large scale fraud and tax evasion. Paul Henley hears from disillusioned former members, and people still committed to their revolutionary ideals. He hears how Tvind caused a constitutional crisis, and how it has played the Danish system for its own aims.

 Listen to this programme in full

In a small village school, the only building to break the bleak skyline of this part of Jutland, on the northwest coast of Denmark, I meet Steen Thomsen, a quiet, unassuming teacher in his 50's.

For 26 years, Steen was a teacher with Tvind, a controversial organisation which has recently become the focus of one of Denmark's biggest-ever police investigations.

What is Tvind?

Every Dane is familiar with Tvind. But exactly what is it? I find that this is not an easy question to anwer.

I would say it is a cult, it's a political organisation, even a charitable organisation

Thomas Stockholm

One of Denmark's television journalists, Thomas Stockholm, who has made the most extensive documentaries on Tvind, tells me: "There is not one definition. I would say it is a cult, it's a political organisation, even a charitable organisation. It's a chameleon. And at the same time they grow bigger and bigger."

Accused of being a cult, Tvind is now facing allegations of embezzling millions of pounds worth of public money.

Development of Tvind

Tvind started in the 60s as a group of radical young teachers.

The organisation derived its strength, particularly in the early days, from a unique provision in the Danish constitution that allows any organisation to run a school - and the state finances these schools.

Tvind
One of Tvind's community activities is ballooning

Tvind started lots of schools across Denmark.

Tvind functions along classic communal lines. At the centre of the organisation are the teachers - forming a sort of political cadre, who share not only their ideals and their time, but also their incomes.

The Tvind communal financial pot is used to fund a wide range of "good causes" and commercial concerns around the world. Over time, as Tvind grew and diversified, funds were merged and diverted into a complicated internal market. Projects include fighting Aids in Africa, commercial plantations in South America and second-hand clothes businesses wherever there is a market for them.

Yet Tvind is an organisation of stark contrasts. From early flower-power sensitivities in Denmark grew a global Tvind empire, a network of business-cum-charitable concerns whose stated aims were to "do good", to "make the world a better place" but which are also motivated by profit.

Insider

Steen joined Tvind as a radically-minded student in the early 70s. Inspired by Maoist philosophies, he and his comrades set out on inspirational travels across the Third World...

Steen Thomsen
Steen Thomsen "escaped" Tvind

"I thought it was all about freedom", Steen says. "But I was wrong. I had joined a cult and I was being trained to follow its orders. My experience with Tvind ended up being about anything but freedom".

Steen Thomsen dedicated most of his life to the organisation, and like many others, Steen gave all his money - inheritance, savings and earnings.

Now, Steen is one of the few former Tvind insiders to go public. After making his "escape" from Tvind, he delivered a testimony to the Danish government about his time in the group, detailing the psychological pressure and verbal abuse of Amdi Petersen, the founder of Tvind.

Tvind's founder

A mysterious guru-figure and founding member of Tvind, Amdi Petersen, is alleged to be in charge of the money raised by Tvind, the "shared" money. According to estimates from Danish police documents Tvind is now worth at least 100 million pounds.

Yet, in a sinister twist, Amdi Petersen has been in hiding for 22 years.

Britta Rasmussen
Britta Rasmussen - another "escapee"

"There's no doubt at all about who's at the top of Tvind", says Britta Rasmussen. She's another "escapee" of the Teachers' Group, the inner sanctum of Tvind.

She tries to explain why Petersen was such a compelling leader. "It was the eyes," she says, "he would fix you with his stare. He was a very brilliant speaker. He was like a god to us. We stopped reading newspapers. He was our only source of what was going on in the world."

A host of Danish journalists have been on Petersen's trail since his disappearance. In Autumn 2001 journalists linked him to a luxury penthouse in Miami - just one example of the luxurious lifestyle he is believed to have enjoyed. But Petersen remained elusive.

News of Petersen's allies made his story even more tantalising to the Danish media. For many years he's been friend and ally to Robert Mugabe, who has helped him establish numerous money-making enterprises in Zimbabwe. Tvind has supported many "interesting" regimes over the years - from Pol Pot to Gaddafi.

The investigation

A long investigation by Danish police into alleged tax evasion and fraud in one of Tvind's charitable organisations culminated in an international arrest warrant being issued for Petersen.

Amdi Petersen's sudden re-appearance, in February 2002, in the public eye has not been how he would have chosen it. The FBI took him into custody in Los Angeles, as he was getting off a plane from Africa.

Now he is fighting extradition to Denmark from a high security prison cell. Police in his home country say they have 3 million documents, seized from computers in Tvind offices, which prove financial irregularity.

Defending Tvind

At Tvind's headquarters in Ulfborg I speak to Lisbeth Krohn, one of the most senior members of Tvind.

Lisbeth Krohn
Lisbeth Krohn defends Tvind

She defends Amdi Petersen: "He has been very much working on giving good ideas and putting a lot of inspiration into starting new projects."

Lisbeth also defends Tvind: "We are teachers, farmers, aid workers. We have been doing lots of good things throughout the world. We are not criminals."

It is the combination of good and bad that makes the organisation so compelling. In Tvind's parallel universe, I am sure there are people with the best intentions ... and I am sure there are criminals.

Denmark's Tvind was aired on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 21st March 2002 at 11:00GMT. Listen to this programme and more Crossing Continents at www.bbc.co.uk/continents.

Reporter: Paul Henley
Producer: Jennie Walmsley
Editor: Sue Ellis

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