COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Danish police are investigating suspected leaks of information about credit card use by politicians, celebrities and members of the royal family to a magazine in a widening scandal.
Police have charged a former male employee at International Business Machines, contracted to work for card payments firm Nets, with leaking Nets data to the magazine Se & Hor. He has not been placed in detention.
"The suspicion is that Se & Hor in the period 2008-2012 has received information about famous people's credit card transactions from Nets," said Chief Superintendent Bent Isager-Nielsen, leading the investigation at Copenhagen police.
Police say Nets, Se & Hor and IBM are cooperating in the investigation.
Credit cards used by former prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, members of the Danish royal family and actor Mads Mikkelsen were allegedly among those monitored.
Se & Hor managed, for instance, to follow Danish Prince Joachim and his wife on what was meant to be a secret honeymoon to Canada in 2008, apparently after using leaked data about their purchase of plane tickets.
"Let me make this clear: What has happened is, by all appearances, extremely illegal. It is unethical, immoral and irresponsible," Niels Pinborg, the magazine's chief editor since November last year, wrote in Thursday's edition.
The man suspected of leaking the Nets data has not been identified. Se & Hor says seven employees have been ordered to take vacations during the probe. Henrik Qvortrup, who was editor of Se & Hor in 2008, quit his job as a political commentator for TV2 last week.
In 2011, British tabloid the News of the World closed after a furor about phone hacking, ranging from the voicemails of a missing teenage girl to celebrities including Queen Elizabeth's grandson Prince Harry and Beatle Paul McCartney.
In March, private equity firms Advent International and Bain Capital, along with Danish pension fund ATP, agreed to buy Nets from a group of Nordic banks for 17 billion Danish crowns ($3.17 billion). The deal has not been affected. [ID:nL5N0ML1BJ]
Last year Nets systems handled 6 billion credit card transactions. "It is not possible to guard oneself completely against people who are abusing their trusted position to commit crimes," Nets country manager Susanne Bronnum said.
She said in a statement that some employees needed access to card data to help customers with questions about their payments. Nets plans to tighten security and step up checks of employees' data logs.
According to media lawyer Oluf Jorgensen, anyone convicted of leaking data in Denmark could face six years in jail.
"The tabloid press has always crossed the lines of privacy violation, but there is a huge difference between taking a picture of a princess sunbathing and this," he told Reuters.($1 = 5.3612 Danish Crowns)
Writing by Annabella Nielsen and Alister Doyle; editing by Andrew Roche