This article originally appeared on VICE Denmark.
Per Ulrich Karpf is one of Denmark's most notorious millionaire convicts. He wasn't born rich, but started a call center in his late teens and made his first million before he turned 20. A few years later, in 2006, he lost part of his fortune due to some failed business ventures. He turned to fraud to maintain his lavish lifestyle, which landed him in prison. When the financial crisis struck, he lost even more money—and turned to fraud again, this time from his minimum security prison. He got caught, and won't be released for another year.
Over the last decade, Karpf has been incarcerated in five different prisons—the Danish prison system often moves prisoners around to facilitate different levels of security. He currently resides at the Kragskovhede Fængsel correctional facility, in the north of the Jutland peninsula. The Danish system also allows non-violent offenders who have served a significant part of their sentence to leave the facility for 48 hours every two or three weeks. This taste of freedom is meant to help inmates prepare for life back in society.
That's why Karpf gets to spend two weekends a month as a free man. Before being moved to Kragskovhede Fængsel, on his days off, he'd walk out of the prison gates, jump in his Jaguar—which was parked outside—and drive to Copenhagen. However, his current accommodation is a nine-hour drive from the Danish capital. Not that Karpf would let that curb his spirits; these days he just flies to Copenhagen from the nearest airport in Aalborg.
The idea can be hard to stomach—a man currently serving time for swindling others out of their livelihood is still allowed to live it up in the city. I was curious to see what Karpf gets up to on his days off, so I got in touch with him and asked if I could join him on one of his recent weekend outings.
I meet the 36-year-old at a café in Copenhagen. It's Saturday morning and Karpf spent the night before at his aunt’s apartment, which is around the corner. According to him, the five-star hotel close by is "too lonely." His intimidatingly well-tailored appearance makes it hard to tell that he's spent the better part of the last decade being moved from one prison to the next while facing several different convictions.
Karpf informs me that he plans on throwing his girlfriend a birthday party later this evening—he's also rented a limousine to kick-start the celebrations. The couple actually met on one of these weekend releases. I ask how she feels about dating a convicted felon. "I haven’t told her that I’m a criminal," he deadpans, then pauses briefly before cracking up. "No, of course I have." He adds: "I’m a very romantic person. I treat my girlfriends like princesses and goddesses. I’m essentially a good person."
The Danish media loves Karpf, and often write about his journey from wealthy playboy to criminal. "There’s never been much of a socialite scene in Denmark," he says, explaining the interest in his persona as something that says more about Denmark than about himself.
When I ask him to explain how he's managed to maintain a large chunk of his wealth, he slightly dodges my question by focusing on his individual convictions. "In 2006, I received a sentence of three and a half years for tax evasion and VAT fraud," Karpf begins. "In 2007, they gave me four more years for committing $18 million worth of fraud, which was then combined with the previous sentence." He was barely out of prison in 2015 when new charges of aiding and abetting were brought up against him. Karpf was found guilty and sentenced to an additional five years. "I'm currently in prison because I advised some people on how to commit fraud."
Karpf tells me that this should be the last of his convictions. "I couldn't survive another stint in prison. It's a really tough environment, and I’m getting older."
When I ask him why people who are wealthy beyond most people's imagination would still decide to risk that wealth for more, Karpf posits that, in his case, the root of the problem can be found in his upbringing.
He grew up in the affluent suburb of Rungsted with his mother, who was an alcoholic. At the age of ten, he moved out to live with his father. "Rungsted is all about wealth and I was always the poor kid," he explains. "I thought that life was all about having money, but I didn’t have any, so I felt like an outcast." He admits that his favorite childhood memories involve the acquisition of material things.
"I loved it when my parents tried to make up for neglecting me by buying me presents," he admits. "That was nice, even though it provided a false sense of security and love."
At 17, Karpf moved to Copenhagen to live on his own. Driven by his ambition to make a lot of money fast, it didn’t take him long to start his first call center, and the money—all legit at this point according to him—started rolling in.
"The years that followed were just full of extravagance and luxury," he remembers. His life in Copenhagen stood in stark contrast to his childhood years. "I would easily spend $16,000 in one weekend," Karpf tells me. "But you have to remember that everyone was spending that kind of cash in those days." Everyone, really? "Sure, everyone."
But all that spending eventually got him into a financial hole, and his debts started piling up. At one point, he needed over $100 million for a hotel project in Turkey, which the bank had backed out of. But Karpf refused to give that project up, or tone down his extravagant lifestyle.
"I was dead set on maintaining my standard of living even though it was turning into an enormous financial burden," he admits. "Everyone else was folding. but I was adamant I wouldn't." He claims that was when he turned to fraud.
Karpf is well aware that he's the one responsible for fucking up his life. “I’m reaping what I sowed," he admits. "But I’m trying to settle my debts with the people who have lost money because of me."
At the café, while ordering some juice, ginger shots, coffee, avocado, salmon, scrambled eggs, and sausages, he tells me that despite everything, he regularly receives messages from admirers. "Every week, young people hit me up on social media to tell me how awesome they think I am, and how they want to be as successful as I was in business."
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Karpf will officially be released from prison in a little over a year. He tells me the idea of spending thousands on bottles of champagne at expensive nightclubs doesn't appeal to him anymore. "You see a lot of young people on social media who appear to be spending a ton of money on extravagant things," he says. "In reality, those kids are spending all their savings on those bottles of champagne. They cannot actually afford it."
I remind Karpf that when I asked him for suggestions on our photo shoot, his idea was to photograph him in a casino, surrounded by half-naked women and wearing an expensive watch. "I’m not saying that you shouldn’t show off—of course you should," he retorts. "Showing off is great, but you should do it right. Have some class. Don’t take a selfie with a car that you leased, when you’re behind on your mortgage payments and you’re drinking from a bottle that 20 people had to pitch in on," he goes on.
I ask him what his plans for the future are after he's released. "I would love to take a few months off and go find myself," he says. "Whether that will happen in a small village in Tuscany, on a trek through a desert or at a monastery, I don’t know yet. I want to go somewhere where no one knows who Per Ulrich Karpf is, so I can figure that out for myself."