Stein Bagger, the Danish IT executive who allegedly created millions of dollars in fake contracts for his company, has claimed in an interview that he was threatened at gunpoint and acted as he did to protect his family.
Bagger disappeared during a family vacation in Dubai last month and is wanted in Denmark for fraud and other charges following the spectacular collapse of his company, the once high-flying IBM partner IT Factory.
Bagger turned himself in at a Los Angeles police station last Saturday and is being held in jail in Santa Ana, California, awaiting repatriation to Denmark to face charges. He talked to a reporter from a Danish publication who interviewed him during visiting hours Thursday morning.
"I have been threatened on my own and my family's life, and I have been threatened with firearms between 25 and 30 times," Bagger told the reporter, from Denmark's Ekstra Bladet, according to a rough translation of the original article in Danish.
He would not say who threatened him but claimed they forced him to embezzle money from IT Factory, according to Mikkel Selin, the reporter who interviewed Bagger. Selin said Bagger told him, "They are people who are very close to me, also physically close to me," suggesting he knows the people well, Selin said.
Press reports in Denmark have linked Bagger to members of a local Hell's Angels gang, who were implicated in an attack on a person said to be an associate of Bagger. They are more pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that Danish authorities now have to put together.
Wearing an orange prison uniform, Bagger wept repeatedly during the interview, apologized to the business associates he let down, and said he cares only for his wife, Anette, and 8-year-old daughter, Olivia.
Asked why he walked out on them in Dubai, he referred ambiguously to "two incidents" that occurred there that convinced him he had to leave. He said he left a note for his wife that read: "I need to get away for a while, watch out for our daughter."
From there he apparently flew to New York, borrowed a sports car and some cash from a business partner, and headed West for Los Angeles. He says he drove for three days in a trance, worried about his family. In Los Angeles he called his older brother, who told him he was wanted by Danish police.
"I am happy that everything is revealed, and now I will cooperate with the police when I get home," he told Ekstra Bladet. "Everything should be on the table. I'm just glad that the nightmare is over."
He admitted to his wrongdoing, according to the report. "I am not a victim in this case," Bagger said. "I am guilty."
Many questions remain about what happened, and the story continues to grip Denmark's population of 4.5 million. Book publishers there have been trying to sign deals with the parties involved, and there are rumours of a Hollywood movie.
The story has also helped validate blogs as a news-reporting medium in Denmark. Dorte Toft, an independent journalist and former Computerworld Denmark reporter, raised some of the initial questions about IT Factory's business through a series of articles in her blog.
Toft was suspicious of Bagger's résumé, and determined that the California university where he claimed to have earned his PhD does not exist. An American woman in Denmark said later that Bagger had hired her to pose as a university administrator on the telephone to verify his degree to reporters.
IT Factory filed for bankruptcy earlier this month not long after Bagger disappeared. Its chairman, Asger Jensby, has estimated that 90% of the company's turnover was fictitious.
Bagger was still being held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Friday, a spokeswoman said. The paperwork is being prepared for his return to Denmark "in the very near future," she said.