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Why are Icelanders good at football… and music?

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Björk and Sigurrós may be the most famous Icelandic musicians but there are many others. Now, footballers are doing pretty well. Better tame the football hubris for the time being but there are good reasons for Icelanders to excel in these two fields: young Icelanders have very good opportunities in both.

Recently, I watched a program on Rúv, the Icelandic broadcaster, on kids at the age of 12 to 14 preparing for a national science contest. The program followed the kids, from all around Iceland, at home and in school. One question they all got was what their did in their spare time. The answer? Each and every of them either did sport or music, some did both.

This is nothing new. After the war, the Icelandic music life was revived, or rather to a great degree, created by some Icelanders who had studied abroad and by a few foreign musicians who chose to make Iceland their home. The music life, also the music education, is still to some degree nourished by foreigners. This, in addition to many Icelandic musicians.

Most kids, not only in Reykjavík but also outside of Reykjavík, have access to music education. Many schools have school orchestras where children are taught to play the various instruments that make up an orchestra.

The same with sports. All over the country there are good facilities for the various sports, most notably football, handball and swimming.

It is from a broad base of nurtured talent that Björk and Sigurrós grew – and in football, footballers like the captain of the Icelandic national team Aron Einar Gunnarsson and Björn Bergmann Sigurdsson. Globalisation has helped these talents, both in music and football, to grow far beyond the amateur level with the world as their stage or their field.

Most of the football players playing for Iceland either do play professionally abroad or have done so. In addition they have grown up in the under 21 national team. Then there was the good work of the Swedish trainer Lars Lagerbäck whose assistant trainer Heimir Hallgrímsson is now the trainer of the national team.

Most national teams can count on their countries to support them. In Iceland, the support is tremendous. Basically everyone who is old enough to be aware of the world and not too old to be completely out of it, has his or her whole heart behind the team. On days with important international matches the traffic all over Iceland stops. Completely.

Just to qualify for the World Cup was a fantastic achievement, on the Icelandic scale of achievements – the smallest nation ever to qualify. The joy was profound. Icelanders definitely did not take it for granted that their team would indeed qualify.

From now on, every victory will be a bonus, deeply felt all over the country. The small economy will be shaken by every victory: consumption – such as buying trips to Russia – will go through the roof, productivity will most likely fall if Iceland wins a few matches.

But as you wonder why Icelanders can be so good at music and football keep in mind that it has nothing to do with some sudden wonder: it’s based on good education and easily accessible opportunities and facilities for decades. Something that every nation could match, if it is willing to invest in its youth and equal opportunities in education.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

October 13th, 2017 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

Benediktsson’s saga, the 2008 crash and how some were luckier than others

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Nine years after the October 2008 financial crash Iceland is doing well, some justice was done as bankers and businessmen have been sentenced for criminal deeds up to the crash that has been better clarified than anywhere else. Yet, the collapse still looms large in Icelandic politics. Prime minister Bjarni Benediktsson leader of the Independence party is now being asked questions regarding certain transactions before the banking collapse 6 October 2008. An impertinent question is why the banks did indeed open on that day – it did allow some well-connected people to diminish the hit as the banks collapsed.

The family of PM Bjarni Benediktsson can lay claim to being the only political dynasty in Iceland. Often referred to as “Engeyingarnir” – the “Eng-islanders,” Engey being the island on the gulf by Reykjavík – the family has been wealthy and powerful for most part of the past century and still is. The family rose on the basis of fishing industry in the early 20th century but later extended into transport, insurance and banking. The minister of finance and leader of the coalition party Revival Benedikt Jóhannesson is closely related to the PM.

As some other big shareholders in the banks and other companies “Engeyingarnir” were heavily involved in conspicuous transactions in the months and hours up to 4pm 6 October 2008 when the Emergency Act was passed. That Act and that day mark the realisation of the collapse (the three banks had all failed by 9 October). One chapter relating to Benediktsson has now been added to that saga, as told in the Guardian and the Icelandic newspaper Stundin – it was known earlier that Benediktsson sold a position in Glitnir investment funds but the latest reports provide the figures: in total, ISK80m or c €643.000.

Most aspects of the collapse were painstakingly recounted in the 2010 report of the Special Investigation Commission, SIC, the most thorough report any nation has written on the 2007 and 2008 financial crisis. But Benediktsson’s story is a reminder of one catastrophic mistake of the government at the time: to open the banks on Monday 6 October 2008, thus giving privileged clients like Benediktsson the opportunity to make transactions, which minimised their losses following the collapse that no one except a small group around the prime minister knew of.

Last minute transactions under dark clouds

The core of the Guardian story is that up to the October 2008 crash Benediktsson sold assets in two investment funds, managed by Glitnir, the smallest of the three large Icelandic banks.

Late September 2008 it was clear that Glitnir could not meet its obligations in the following October. At the time, Glitnir was controlled by its largest shareholder Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson and his partners. Jóhannesson is a famous name in the British business community as he owned at the time large retail companies on the UK high street.

The bank’s leadership had no option but to agree to a government takeover of 75% of the bank, thus saving the bank but almost wiping out the shareholders. Only days later it was clear that the bank was in such a state that the 75% takeover was not viable.

Just before midnight of 29 September Bjarni Benediktsson attended an emergency meeting with MP Illugi Gunnarsson, a friend of Benediktsson and also on the board of Fund 9, one of the two investment funds of this story. Together with chairman of Glitnir Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson they met with Glitnir’s CEO Lárus Welding and Glitnir’s legal council. Why exactly the two MPs were at this meeting is not clear: their connections to Glitnir seems a better explanation rather than the fact they were both MPs.

Why was Fund 9 so toxic?

During these tumultuous days Benediktsson set in motion some private transactions. On 24 September he sold off ISK30m, €241.000 in a Glitnir fund called Fund 1, and bought Norwegian krone, which turned out to be a wise transaction given how much the ISK fell in the coming days and weeks. Incidentally, this happened on the same day that the chairman of Glitnir, Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson met with governor of the Central Bank Davíð Oddsson to inform him that the bank could not meet its obligations in October.

On 2 October Benediktsson again sold ISK30m, this time in Fund 9 and then again ISK21m on 6 October. In an email the week before Benediktsson had specifically instructed for this latter transaction to be carried out on 6 October.

Late on 5 October PM Geir Haarde said to the Icelandic media that no further actions were needed regarding the Icelandic banks. At 11.29am 6 October the Icelandic financial surveillance authority, FME, effectively closed the Icelandic financial institutions. Benediktsson was one of several well-positioned people who made transactions on that morning.

Fund 9 was a particularly toxic fund because it was full of bonds connected to Jóhannesson’s companies and Glitnir, which, given that these companies relied so heavily on Glitnir funding, would clearly be heavily hit if Glitnir failed. That was indeed the case: these companies suffered heavy losses.

When Fund 9 opened again at the end of October 2008 its assets had been written down: the fund was now only 85.12% of what it had been on 6 October. However, if PM Haarde and the minister of finance had not bolstered Fund 9 with ISK11bn, now €88.5m, of public funds after the fund was closed the situation of the Fund 9 investors had been much worse. It has never been clarified why public funds were used to help Fund 9 investors and not investors in many other funds.

As Benediktsson had sold his Fund 9 assets worth ISK51m he was unaffected by the Fund 9 losses. In addition, there were the Icelandic króna Benediktsson converted into Norwegian krone. – In a media interview last year Benediktsson said he had owned “something” in Fund 9, nothing substantial and could not really remember the figures.

Benediktsson sold Glitnir shares in bleak February 2008

These were however not the only transactions Benediktsson made in 2008. In early February 2008 the future of the banks looked worryingly bleak though publicly bankers and politicians denied it. In addition to evaporating funding on international markets foreign banks were making margin calls on all the major Icelandic businessmen who also happened to own large parts of the banks.

The banks were now in a turbo-drive to help this selected group of businessmen to pay off their foreign loans, thus increasing lending to the selected few when lending was generally withdrawn. One of these businessmen was Karl Wernersson who in 2006 had bought large part of the Engeyingar’s shareholding in Glitnir.

The foreign margin calls led to some financial acrobatics for Wernersson, which also involved the Engeyingar because of the 2006 sale. This case, called the Vafningur (Bundle) case centres on loans from Glitnir and Sjóvá, an insurance company controlled by the Engeyingar.

Benediktsson signed some of the documents on behalf of Vafningur. The Sjóvá lending involved alleged fraudulent use of Sjóvá’s insurance funds. In the end, the case was not prosecuted and Benediktsson has always claimed that in spite of his signature he really did not know what the whole case was about.

One key event in February 2008 was a meeting of the three governors of the Central Bank with PM Geir Haarde, Árni Matthiesen minister of finance and leader of the social democrats Sólrún Gísladóttir minister of foreign affairs. The governors were profoundly pessimistic and news of this meeting flew around among politicians and others though it did not reach the media.

It’s not known if Benediktsson knew of the meeting and the unhappy tidings there. However, on 19 February Benediktsson and his friend Illugi Gunnarsson met with Lárus Welding CEO of Glitnir and the bank’s legal council, a meeting Benediktsson did ask for. Two days later Benediktsson set in motion to sell ISK119m, now €960.000, of his Glitnir shares, keeping only ISK3m. The transaction was carried out between 21 to 23 February 2008. On the 26 February Benediktsson and Gunnarsson wrote a much noted article in Iceland, outlining the dire straits of the Icelandic banks with no mention that Benediktsson had already sold the lion share of his shares in Glitnir.

Of the ISK119m worth of shares he sold he placed ISK90m in Fund 9. In March his assets in Fund 9 amounted to ISK165m, €1.3m. – In 2011, the daily DV told the story of the share sale, incidentally written by Ingi Freyr Vilhjálmsson who is also behind the latest and revealing reports in Stundin. At the time, Benediktsson refused to comment.

The power and influence of a prominent family

What was Bjarni Benediktsson doing in 2008? He was an MP, investor, close friend with some of the Glitnir staff, a member of a family who had been one of Glitnir’s largest shareholder and wielded considerable power in Icelandic politics and businesses. And Benediktsson had been a guest on some of Glitnir’s more ostentatious trips in the years before, such as football in London and salmon fishing in Siberia.

Benediktsson, born in 1970, became a member of Alþingi in 2003 but held at the same time positions in family companies. Not until after the 2008 collapse did he leave the family businesses where he had been on the boards of several companies.

Stundin has now exposed a far more detailed account of Benediktsson’s business dealings than was previously known, such as a failed property adventure in Dubai, related to his offshore company found in the Panama Papes and a much more successful venture in Miami, where Benediktsson was in charge of payments to constructors, literally all through the October 2008 collapse.

Due to the family assets and connections he had a far deeper relationship with Glitnir than just being an MP who happened to bank with Glitnir. His father Benedikt Sveinsson and his uncle Einar Sveinsson had been one of the largest shareholders of Glitnir 2003 to 2006. His uncle Einar was indeed the bank’s chairman at the time. Both his father and uncle sold both shares in Glitnir in 2008 and their positions in Fund 9 just before the banking collapse.

During these fateful autumn days Benedikt sold for ISK500m in Fund 9 and had the proceeds wired to Florida where the family has property. Einar sold for over ISK1bn. If the two brothers had waited Benedikt would have lost ISK24m due to falling value of Fund 9, his brother ISK183m.

An email from uncle Einar to a Glitnir employee on 1 October 2008 throws light on the kind of relationship the family had with Glitnir. The bank had made a margin call. “I don’t need to waste words,” wrote Einar, “that I don’t like this kind of message from the bank” expecting the employee to follow earlier decisions made.

The Teflon man of Icelandic politics

Benediktsson has been leader of the Independence party since 2009 but the rumours related to his family businesses have never left him. Apart from his sales of Glitnir shares and assets in Glitnir and the highly contentious Vafningur transactions, Benediktsson and his family have been associated to more recent cases.

In 2014 Benediktsson was minister of finance when Landsbanki, a state-owned bank, sold off a credit card company, Borgun. Borgun was sold without any bidding process, in fact it was sold without anyone knowing anything about the sale. Until it transpired Borgun had been sold to a consortium led by Benediktsson’s uncle Einar Sveinsson. This, in spite of the public policy of selling state assets in a transparent process to a highest bidder.

It later turned out that Borgun had been heavily undervalued. Less than a year after the sale, Borgun’s equity amounted to almost twice the sale’s price. Eventually, the Landsbanki CEO and board were forced to resign due to the Borgun sale. Benediktsson has always claimed he had been wholly oblivious of the whole thing, both that Borgun would be sold in a closed sale to a company of his uncle and the undervaluation.

Last year, the Panama Papers exposed that Benediktsson had owned part in a Seychelles company, set up by Mossack Fonseca. Only a year earlier, Benediktsson had staunchly denied he had owned a company in a tax haven. Asked about the Seychelles company he said he had not known it was offshore since it was set up through Luxembourg. Again, Benediktsson was blissfully ignorant and his party supported him.

The latest case, that also landed Benediktsson in international headlines, related to a bizarre relationship between his father and a sentenced paedophile. Iceland does not have a sex-offenders registry and people who have abused children can, as others who have been sentenced, recover their civil rights via a clemency process.

Called “honour revival” it requires a statement to confirm the soundness of character of the person in question. Benediktsson’s octogenarian father had given a statement to the sentenced paedophile who the father knew through old friends. What gave rise to questions was not that Benediktsson should be held responsible for his father’s action but that the minister of justice might have dealt with the case differently because of the family connections.

6 October 2008: the right and wrong decisions

As to the latest story of his Glitnir dealings Bjarni Benediktsson staunchly refuses he had any inside information. He just acted on what everyone could see: the banks were in serious trouble. His party still supports him.

It is worth keeping in mind that a large part of the Icelandic population owned shares in the banks. Many people saving up for their pension had, apart from obligatory savings via pension funds, privately saved by buying shares in the banks. Grandparents and parents had given children shares to save for their adult years. There were almost 40.000 shareholders in Kaupthing, the largest bank.

Benediktsson now says everyone knew the situation was precarious and he had only been trying to protect his assets. It is however not correct that everyone knew. The small shareholders quietly hoped the bankers were in control and that both bankers and politicians were right when they said publicly that everything would be fine.

The fact that the banks were kept open on the morning of 6 October 2008 was the wrong decision. It allowed the well-connected to take precautions but was of no help for the small shareholders who had no idea what was going on.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

October 9th, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

A fallen government and breach of trust

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The Icelandic government has fallen due to lack of trust – Bright Future has decided to leave the government. That is the simple fact. The story behind this is a tad more complicated, based on a horrid story of sexual abuse, a strange system of “reviving honour” after an ended prison sentence and connections to the father of prime minister Bjarni Benediktsson leader of the Independence party. Benediktsson, the Teflon man of Icelandic politics, again has a case that raises questions but so far, he has not lost the trust of his party. He now wants to call elections in November. – This is not a case of pedophilia but of politics and trust.

The shortest lived government in the history of Iceland and the third government led by the Independence party to fall has now come to an end, greatly challenging the party’s claim to be the great stabiliser in Icelandic politics. The only government after the 2008 banking collapse that so far has lasted its full parliamentary term is the left government, which did manage to sit the full 4 years though struggling at times.

In spring last year, Bjarni Benediktsson pulled his party out of government led by the Progressives’ leader Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson; the reason was lack of trust. Gunnlaugsson, named in the Panama papers, had for weeks known of the infamous interview where confronted with evidence he walked out. When Benediktsson saw the interview he walked out of government.

This time, the story could not be more different but at the bottom is, again, lack of trust. Benediktsson did not inform his fellow ministers that his father had signed a statement of character for a sentenced pedofile seeking to rehabilitate his honour and thereby seeking to reclaim civil rights lost due to his long prison sentence.

The sordid origin of a political story

Róbert Árni Hreiðarsson is a lawyer, earlier convicted for grooming under-aged girls in a particularly vicious case. After ending his sentence he changed to name to Robert Downey (apparently taking up the name of his American father). A convicted lawyer can’t enter the legal profession again unless he goes through the process of rehabilitating, “reviving his honour” as it is called in Icelandic.

The process can be initiated five years after ending a prison sentence and implies inter alia getting someone to sign a statement confirming that this person is indeed a sound and good person. Though not without exceptions, this has mostly been a rather mechanical process where the rehabilitation is rarely denied.

The fact that Downey seemed so easily to get his place in society again caused a widespread disgust in Iceland. The father of one of his victims aired the distress of the family, shared by many Icelanders. Rúv, the Icelandic state broadcaster, tried for months to get minister of justice Sigríður Andersen, also an Independence party MP, to inform who had supported Downey in “reviving his honour.”

The very Icelandic story of a pedofile connected to the PM’s father

As a side story, the attention was also on others sentenced for sexual abuse and who had helped them to rehabilitate. One of them is a Hjalti Sigurjón Hauksson, sentenced for years of abusing his under-aged stepdaughter. It now turns out that one of those who assisted Hauksson was a well known businessman Benedikt Sveinsson, father of PM Bjarni Benediktsson.

Mostly, those who assist ex-prisoners to regain their full civil rights are people who have some standing in society and who known the convicted people for a long time. So what are the connections between Sveinsson, firmly in the centre of power and money in Iceland, and a sentenced pedofile?

In a press release, Sveinsson says that Hjalti Sigurjón Hauksson was for a while related to acquaintances of him and his wife from their school years and that Hauksson had over the years sometimes sought his help, mostly related to financial matters or work. Last year, Hauksson had brought him a letter for Sveinsson to sign, in order to use for his process of regaining his honour. Sveinsson signed the letter as it was, thereby signing off that Sveinsson now merited to be rehabilitated.

Hauksson has worked as a bus driver, also working for a bus company owned by Sveinsson and his family. This bus company has the license to operate on the very lucrative route Reykjavík – Keflavik airport.

Nagging suspicion and belated acknowledgment 

With the focus on Downey there had been some political manoeuvre, which caused suspicion and the media kept asking for more information. In hindsight, some media probably hard heard of a connection to the PM’s family that kept the Downey case alive in the media.

Following a Rúv Freedom of Information request, which ordered the ministry of justice to release information, Sigríður Andersen was just about to release information not only on Downey but all similar cases since 1995. On Monday, PM Benediktsson informed the two other coalition leaders that his father was implicated in one of these cases.

According to Óttarr Proppé leader of Bright Future he was then of the understanding that this information was about to be released. But when he then understood yesterday that Andersen had informed Benediktsson in July about his father’s involvement with the known pedofile, Proppé and his party concluded that this was such a breach of trust that leaving government was the only option.

Benediktsson adds to his list of political mishaps

There is no allegation of any connection between Benediktsson and a sentenced pedofile and this case has nothing to do with pedophilia, contrary to headlines in foreign media. The government did not fall due to a case of pedophilia but due to breach of trust, how Benediktsson had handled the case and if the minister of justice had acted properly by informing the PM of his family connections to this specific case.

But this case adds to Benediktsson’s list of mishaps that have so far not tainted his standing as a political leader. His father was connected to a banking collapse case, called the Vafningur case, related to illegal use of funds of Sjóvá, an insurance company where the family has for decades been a major shareholder. The case was not prosecuted. Benediktsson gave a witness statement where he claimed he had not known the details.

In 2014 Benediktsson was the minister of finance when the state-owned Landsbanki sold a credit card company to a consortium of businessmen. It later turned out the bank had grossly undervalued the company leaving a huge windfall to the consortium. Again, Benediktsson had been wholly aware of the whole thing.

Last, but not least, Benediktsson figured in the Panama Papers. He had owned an offshore company, holding failed investments in Macao. By saying this had all been only losses and was long gone, Benediktsson was able to move on and keeping his position as an undisputed leader of his party.

The political aftermath

So, what now? The first reaction was that the government had now fallen and there would be a quick election though there have also been rumours of other options. There are theoretical options for the government to continue operating for a limited time – for two months or so, long enough for the government to pass the budget, or if its live could be stretched until spring. Benediktsson has said he would prefer to call elections in November.

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson leader of the Progressive party, an old coalition partner of the Independence party, denied quite harshly today that he was interested in filling Bright Future’s seats in government. At the same time, the rumour mill claimed the party was indeed interested in this option. Less easy now after Jóhannsson’s firm denial.

One mealy-mouthed politician today is Benedikt Jóhannesson minister of finance and leader of “Revival,” partly a splinter party out of the Independence party touting itself as a liberal euro-phile party contrary to the old party of anti-European sentiments and special interests. Contrary to other Revival MPs, Jóhannesson was remarkably unwilling to criticise Benediktsson and unwilling to mention breach of trust. In a country where blood is thicker than water, all Icelanders know full well that Jóhannesson is closely related to Benediktsson.

Quite remarkably, Iceland has in many ways done all the right things following the banking collapse in 2008 – it investigated the collapse, prosecuted bankers and shareholders and its economy turned to growth already in summer of 2011. Yet, it has not yet found political stability or political strength. That however has perhaps more to do with the times we live in: in Iceland, the widespread demand for transparency keeps running against political love of opacity.

The Independence party and its loss of claim to stability

Given that the world has lately seen Brexit and Trump victory, I’ve been saying tongue in cheek that if there will be elections soon Iceland might wake up to a government of Independence party, the Progressives and a new anti-immigration populist party called Party of the People. So far, it is a joke (albeit not funny).

The new party has caught the favour of voters always looking for a new solution to the world’s ill. The Pirate party has held much of these votes but seems to be losing them to this new party. Compared to other European countries, anti-immigration sentiments have not surfaced as a political force in Iceland. Not for lack of trying: the Progressives have flirted with these sentiments but so far, no success. However, as we have seen, such a party can pull other parties in its direction. Remains to be seen.

In terms of political reputation, the greatest loser from this debacle is so far the Independence party: it has for decades laid claim to its central part in Icelandic politics as the great stabiliser. Now, the party has set a new record: the three last government is has sat in – after elections in 2007, 2013 and 2016 (with government formed in January 2017) – have fallen.

But as the Independence party knows better than any other party it can normally rely on its voters, no matter what. It has been hovering around 25% of votes in opinion polls lately, record low compared to its earlier glory of close to 40%. Our times of flimsy voters might test this but other parties have a lot harder battle, especially the two other coalition parties who are in danger of not getting any MP though Bright Future might have created some political sparks by walking out of government. All to be tested in November…

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

September 15th, 2017 at 6:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

Landsbanki equity release borrowers lose at first instance court in Paris

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After investigations by judge Renaud van Ruymbeke on Landsbanki Luxembourg equity release loans the case against its main shareholder and chairman of the board Björgólfur Guðmundsson and eight ex Landsbanki employees was concluded in a Paris court yesterday 28 August: the judge acquitted all of them. The group of borrowers who have been seeking answers and clarification to their situation is hoping the prosecutor will appeal.

The main issue addressed by Justice Olivier Geron in the magnificent Saint-Chapelle yesterday was alleged fraud by the nine accused bankers. After clarifying some procedural issues, the judge read for an hour his verdict with gusto, making only a short break when he realised that one page was missing from his exposé.

The Justice established that the financial collapse in Iceland had not affected the bank in Luxembourg and there had been no connection between events in Iceland and Luxembourg. – That is one view but we should of course keep in mind that the Landsbanki Luxembourg operations were closely connected to the financial health and safety of the mother bank in Iceland as funds flowed between these banks and the Landsbanki Luxembourg did indeed fail when the mother bank failed.

The Justice also considered if the behaviour of the individuals involved could be characterised as fraudulent behaviour and concluded that no, it could not. Thirdly, he considered the quality of the lending, if the clients had been promised or guaranteed the loans could not go wrong. He concluded there had been no guarantees and consequently, no fraud had been committed.

Things to consider

I have dealt with the Landsbanki Luxembourg at length on Icelog (see here) and would argue that the reasoning of the French Justice did not address the grounds on which suspicions were raised that then led to the French investigation.

France is not exactly under-banked: it raises questions why the loans against property in France (and Spain, another case) were all issued from a foreign bank in Luxembourg. Keep in mind that equity release loans, very common for example in the UK some twenty years ago, were all but outlawed there (can’t be issued against a home, i.e. a primary dwelling). This is not to say these loans should be banned but, like FX loans (another frequent topic on Icelog) they are no an everyman product but only of use under very special circumstances.

It is also interesting to keep in mind that other Nordic banks were selling equity release loans out of Luxembourg. Also there, problems arose and in many cases the banks have indeed settled with the clients, thus acknowledging that the loans were not appropriate. Consequently, the cost should be shared by the bank and its clients, not only shouldered by the clients.

The judge seemed taken up with the distinction between promises and guarantees, that the clients had perhaps been promised but not guaranteed that they could not lose, not lose their houses set as collaterals. – The witnesses were however very clear as to what exactly had been spelled out to them. Yes, borrowers bear responsibility to what they sign but banks also bear responsibility for what is offered.

One thing that came up during the hearing in May was the intriguing fact that English-speaking Landsbanki borrowers got loan documentation in English whereas a French borrower like the singer Enrico Macias got documents in English to sign. One English borrower told me he had asked for an English version, was told he would get one but it never arrived. So at least in this respect there was a concerted action on behalf of the bank to, let’s say, diminished clarity.

Landsbanki managers have been sentenced in Iceland for market manipulation. This is interesting since many of the borrowers realised later that contrary to their wish for low-risk investments their funds had been used to buy Landsbanki bonds, without their knowledge and consent.

And now to Luxembourg

As I have repeatedly pointed out, Luxembourg has done nothing so far to investigate banks operating in the Duchy. The concerted actions by the prosecutors in Iceland show that in spite of the complexity of modern banking banks can be investigated and prosecuted. All the dirty and dirtiest dealings of the Icelandic banks went through Luxembourg, also one of the key organising centres of offshorisation in the world.

In spite of the investigations and sentencing in Iceland, nothing has surfaced in Luxembourg in terms of investigating and prosecuting. One case regarding Kaupthing Luxembourg is under investigation there but so far, no charges have been brought.

A tale of two judges and their conflicting views

Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke is famous in France for taking on tough cases of white-collar and financial crimes. Justice Olivier Geron is equally famous for acquitting the accused in such cases. One of Geron’s latest is the Wildenstein case last January where a large tax scandal ended in acquittal, thanks to Geron.

After the Enron trial and the US there has been a diminished appetite there for bringing bankers and others from the top level of the business community to court, a story brilliantly told by Jess Eisinger in The Chickenshit Club – and nothing good coming since the Trump administration clearly is not interested in investigating and prosecuting this type of crimes.

In so many European countries it is clear that prosecuting banks is a no-go or no-success zone. As shown by Ruymbeke’s investigations there is the French will there but with a judge like Geron these investigations tend to fail in court.

Update: the Public Prosecutor in charge of the Landsbanki case has decided to appeal the 28 August decision, meaning the case will come up again in a Paris court.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

August 29th, 2017 at 10:49 am

Posted in Uncategorised

Landsbanki shareholders seek damages by suing Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson – and more could follow

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A whole new type of court cases is emerging in Iceland: shareholders are suing in civil cases for damages suffered as the collapse of Landsbanki and Kaupthing wiped out their shareholdings. Three recent Supreme Court decisions have paved the way for class action against Landsbanki’s largest shareholder, Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson, to test if he was responsible for shareholders’ losses as the bank collapsed 7 October 2008. Those behind the Landsbanki class action intend to sue Kaupthing’s managers for the same reason, i.e. financial losses, based on a criminal case where nine Kaupthing managers have already been sentenced for market manipulation.

“Around thirty men are to blame for the banking collapse” – this is how Vilhjálmur Bjarnason, now member of Alþingi for the Independence party, dramatically described the situation a few weeks after Iceland’s three largest banks failed one after the other from 6 to 8 October 2008.

Bjarnason was himself one of tens of thousands of Icelanders who owned small shareholdings in the Icelandic banks, worthless after these October days in 2008. Some years ago, he was one of the instigators in setting up a group to test if damages could possibly be sought through class action.

Class action – a novelty in Icelandic courts

Nothing like that had ever been tried in Iceland and the path has proven tortuous. Last year, the Reykjavík District Court dismissed the case. The Supreme Court confirmed that decision but at the same time gave the group a direction to test: the Supreme Court pointed out the group’s diverse interests; after splitting the original group into three homogenous groups, according to when they bought the shares, the case was tried again. Again, the District Court threw the case out but the Supreme Court has now ordered the District Court to process the case.

This means that the three groups can now have their case tested.

The thrust of the case is that Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson, as the bank’s largest shareholder, withheld relevant information that should have been in the bank’s annual accounts for 2005 and onwards. The information relates to loans to related partners, i.e. Björgólfsson and his father and also information regarding control over the bank. Had the shareholders been aware of this, they would not have wanted to invest in the bank.

A case built on the SIC report and witnesses

The case is partly built on the report of the Special Investigative Commission, SIC, published in 2010, which indeed recounts all of this. In addition, the group has sought documents and statements from witnesses in an earlier case, brought for the purpose of gathering evidence. If Björgólfsson will be found to have been in breach he will consequently be forced to pay damages to the shareholders behind the class action.

These attempts by the shareholders to sue Björgólfsson have been followed closely by the Icelandic media. Björgólfsson claims the action is utterly baseless and only a personal vendetta against him. One of the shareholders funding the action is Róbert Wessman, earlier CEO of Actavis. Shortly after Björgólfsson took over Actavis in 2007 Wessman left the company and founded his own generic pharmaceutical company. Wessman and Björgólfsson, who parted on bad terms, were for some years suing and counter-suing each other and as often reported in the Icelandic media there is no love lost between the two businessmen.

Kaupthing managers face action from the same shareholders

In October 2016, Sigurður Einarsson former chairman of Kaupthing, former CEO Hreiðar Már Sigurðsson and seven other Kaupthing managers were found guilty of market manipulation by the Supreme Court (see earlier Icelog). Since the managers have already been found guilty, the three groups behind the Landsbanki class action plan to sue Kaupthing managers personally for damages.

Who exactly will be sued is not clear but it seems highly likely that Einarsson and Sigurðsson will be among those sued.

*Here are the three recent Supreme Court decisions mentioned above: case 447/2017, 448/2017, 449/2017.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

August 24th, 2017 at 11:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

Media reactions to Georgiou’s conviction – Kathimerini: it’s a “witch hunt”

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There has been a general outcry in international media after the recent sentencing of former ELSTAT president Andreas Georgiou following six years of persecution by Greek authorities. With the exception of Kathimerini, the Greek press has however mostly been silent. As pointed out in the foreign media the “witch hunt” bodes ill for Greece and now, ELSTAT is indeed struggling with the national statistics… again.

The reporting on the recent conviction of former ELSTAT president Andreas Georgiou in Greece and abroad is decidedly different: abroad there is condemnation and genuine worry, in Greece there is little of that though with noticeable exception: Kathimerini did not hesitate to speak of “witch hunt.” The Financial Times’s headline was a “legal farce calls Greek reform into question.”

The Georgiou case exposes a rift in Greek society

In a short and concise comment by the newspaper’s editor, Nikos Konstandaras, sets out how “the very name Andreas Georgiou – has come to symbolize a rift in society.” On one side there are those who worry about the future of Greece, “knowing that only rational measures will help Greece get back on its feet; on the other, a heterogeneous crowd of indignant citizens and cynical politicians, united by their passionate desire to abdicate responsibility for the past and the present, demands that reality bend to their will.

I am afraid that the second group has more passion, a longer history and the momentum that the first one does not: It is, of course, much easier to rouse the crowd with promises to avoid pain than to embrace it. And loading all the responsibilities for the country’s problems on one man, the former head of Greece’s statistical service, is most seductive: Those who are truly to blame get to play judge, while others believe that because one person is guilty for the crisis and for austerity, the rest don’t have to pay anything… History, though, will record the role they played. In the end they will be loaded with more blame than that which they are trying to saddle onto others.”

The political figure behind the ELSTAT persecution: Karamanlis

Even before the verdict at the end of July, Kathimerini was clear about the direction of the ELSTAT trial – Kostas Karamanlis is the driving force as shown on a cartoon where Karamanlis, playing a video game, is hell-bent on not letting Andreas Georgiou get away. Same could be seen in a recent article in Parapolitika: Karamanlis is still furious with Georgiou and could not hide his satisfaction when Georgiou was sentenced.

As mentioned by Kathimerini when it brought the news of the conviction, this was “the second time that the country’s top prosecutor overturned an earlier ruling in favor of Georgiou, in a case that has become a touchstone for relations between Greece and its creditors.”

The worrying thing is that the Karamanlis faction is still fighting the battles of 2010, still pretending that the fraudulent statistics, indeed exposed before Georgiou took office, are somehow part of evil foreigners kicking Greece.

Worries among international partners and professionals

The various international media and organisations are rightly worried about the relentless persecution of Georgiou: it is a clear sign of political unwillingness to face the facts of political governance in Greece.

For good reasons, the European Commission has been following the case with trepidation but so far it has been utterly unsuccessful in preventing the ELSTAT staff persecutions. Spokeswoman for the Commission’s financial issues Annika Breidthardt said after the conviction that it was not in line with previous acquittal for the same charges:

The independence of statistical offices in our member states is a key pillar the proper functioning of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), this is why it is protected by EU law. We take note of the specific ruling which we note that is not in line with the previous ruling in the previous procedure. We understand that today’s ruling is open for appealing on legal grounds before the Greek Supreme Court. “We have full confidence in the reliability and accuracy of ELSTAT data during 2010-2015 and beyond” … We underlined the importance of the independence of ELSTAT as a key commitment under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding of the Program,” said Breidthardt.

As the International Statistical Institute, ISI has pointed out, Georgiou acted in complete compliance with Eurostat practice, European Statistics Code of Practice: “Not only is the verdict unfair to Mr Georgiou, it also has negative implications for the integrity of Greek and European official statistics. Accordingly, the ISI calls on the Greek Government and the EU Commission, in consultation with their respective statistical authorities, to take all necessary measures to challenge this verdict and seek its reversal as a matter of the utmost priority.”

The absurdity of it all

As pointed out the The Greek Reporter there is the absurdity of the whole process: “Just to let the absurdity sink in: Greece falsified its official statistics for years & the only person prosecuted is the one who fixed them.”

Bloomberg commentator Leonid Bershidsky pointed out that the legal troubles of Georgiou “are about conflicting political visions of the country.”

In a personal and insightful article on Politico, the economist Megan Greene who has followed the Greek crisis from early on, raises the question of the integrity of Greece’s institutions.

New doubts regarding ELSTAT figures

There is now, again a looming suspicion hanging over ELSTAT. As FT reported recently, some discrepancy has surfaced regarding Greek national statistics, this time related to the country’s GDP figures leading the paper to connect this to the ELSTAT case: “The announcement came amid renewed scrutiny of Elstat following an outcry over the conviction by an Athens court last week of Andreas Georgiou, who headed the agency between 2010 and 2015 for “violating his duties.” Mr Georgiou faces a series of trials for allegedly inflating Greece’s budget deficit figure in 2009, the year the country plunged into financial crisis, even though all the statistics produced during his tenure were accepted without reservation by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical service.”

These are only few voices from a large choir of worrying voices. So far, Andreas Georgiou has been prosecuted for the last six years. As long as this is going on, the political forces around Kostas Karamalis clinging on to the past and obstructing a healthy revival of the Greek economy, have the upper hand. That is profoundly worrying for the Europen Union, the IMF and other international partners working with Greece for, hopefully, a better and more sound future for the country.

Greece needs an independent report on its crisis – as was done in Iceland

Incidentally, in Iceland after the October 2008 banking collapse there were also political voices claiming the collapse was all the work of foreigners somehow wanting to get control of Iceland, its natural resources etc. What finally and effectively silenced these voices was the very thorough report published in April 2010 by the Special Investigation Commission.

This independent commission did a brilliant work of clarifying all the relevant aspects of the collapse, from political apathy to the abusive control the largest shareholders had on the three largest banks. The report was an important step for Iceland in working itself out of the crisis but time has made it no less important: it is there as a reference in order to keep in mind what really happened so the time and selective memory cannot alter the facts. – Surely the kind of work sorely needed in Greece (and in all other crisis-hit countries).

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

August 18th, 2017 at 9:46 am

Posted in Uncategorised

The Trump saga in the grand scheme of Russian influence   

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During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union used various ways to influence political leaders and decision makers all over the world. Parts of the Soviet power structure, most notably of the KGB, live on in Russia. Three angles are of interest: 1) Vladimir Putin’s Russia has for years sought to influence the West via Nord Stream. 2) Admiration of Putin as the strong man thrives on the far Right in Europe and elsewhere. 3) The evolving saga of US president Donald Trump’s Russian ties might show a new side of Russian influence if it turns out that the Trump empire did receive Russian funds in its hour of need. – In addition, the Magnitsky Act proves to be an intriguing prism on Russian influence in the West.

Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2

The planning of a Russian gas pipeline from Russia to Europe started in the 1990s. It happened in an atmosphere of uncertainty following the collapse of the Soviet Union as to how the Russian relationship with the democratic West could or would develop. Some even thought Russia could join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Nato.

From the beginning, Nord Stream was developed within and closely related to Gazprom, the Russian state-owned natural gas company founded in 1989 and a key factor in the Russian power structure. The first concrete step towards the pipeline was taken in 1997 but in 2005, the year the construction started, Nord Stream AG was incorporated in Zug, Switzerland. Gazprom has had various partners over the years but it still holds 51% of the shares.

In the countries affected by Nord Stream – Poland, the Baltic states, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany – the effect of the pipeline in terms of environmental effect, national security, energy security and political influence has been a hotly debated topic all these years.

The pipeline was ceremoniously inaugurated in 2011 by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon. Nord Stream 2 is now being planned.

Nordstream has always been about “Russia’s pipeline power” as Edoardo Saravelle at the Center for a New American Security wrote recently: Russia’s attempt to influence the US reaches far beyond attempting to influence the US presidential elections. “The pipeline is a naked Russian attempt to divide and conquer Europe. What makes the Kremlin so clever, and this effort so insidious, is that Gazprom has engineered an attractive business case for the project for a number of European gas importers,” writes Saravelle.

Due to the geo-political dimension of Nord Stream not only politicians and voters in the affected countries were interested in the Nord Stream development but also US politicians.

The Nord Stream effect

As German Chancellor 1998 to 2005, the social democratic leader Gerhard Schröder showed to begin with little liking for Boris Yeltsin’s Russia. That changed when Vladimir Putin, fluent in German after living there as a KGB agent, rose to power. One sign of Schröder’s strong ties to Russia was his enthusiasm for the Baltic gas pipeline and Nord Stream. One of Schröder’s last acts in office was to agree to a state guarantee of €1bn for part of the Nord Stream construction cost.

Only weeks after stepping down as Chancellor, Schröder accepted the Nord Stream offer to become head of the shareholder group of Nord Stream AG, a post he still holds. Not only Germans were shocked. Washington Post wrote an editorial on what the paper called Schröder’s “Sellout” – Democrat Congressman Tom Lantos, a holocaust survivor who died in 2008, chair of the House of Representatives foreign relations committee said that Schröder’s close ties to the Russian energy sector was “political prostitution.”

Equally, it shocked many Fins in 2008 when their social democratic Prime Minister 1995 to 2003 Paavo Lipponen became a Nord Stream consultant. A year later, Poland blocked Lipponen from being put forward as EU foreign policy chief because of his work for Nord Stream.

The new US sanctions against Russia enjoy a large bipartisan support in spite of Trump’s opposition. The new sanctions threaten to hit European companies working on the Nord Stream 2 joint venture with Russia, a major headache for the EU.

The far Right admiration for Putin

As social democrats and in spite of their ties to Putin’s Russia, both Schröder and Lipponen have been advocates of a strong and united Europe Union. But over the last decade or so, many far Right politicians in Europe and the US have shown great sympathy and even admiration for Putin.

Wholly ignoring the dismal state of the Russian economy under Putin and no matter his decidedly undemocratic and despotic tendencies many on the far Right seem to admire him as a strong leader. They have swallowed Putin’s own portrayal of himself, utterly ignoring that Putin’s iconography is unattached to reality.

The French leader of Front National Marine Le Pen and UKIP’s Nigel Farage are part of the Putin fan club. As is Republican congressman of California, Dana Rohrabacher who met with Putin in the 1990s and is known as one of Putin’s staunchest allies on Capital Hill, according to a May 2017 New York Times article.

This may well be a question of values but it can also be interpreted as flirting with an autocratic rule, characterised by “Constraints on the press, centralisation of power and various elements of nationalism” combined “with a backlash against progressive ideals and globalisation” as Olga Oliker expressed it in an article for International Institute for Strategic Studies, IISS.

Trump: more than a political admirer of Putin?

Donald Trump has shown the same admiration for Putin and autocratic rule as many on the far Right though Trump can in many ways not entirely be defined as a far Right; his vision is too rambling to show a single direction.

During his electoral campaign Donald Trump certainly flirted with ideas of autocratic rule: the idea that the president could do this and that unhampered by the House and the Senate, his many utterances against the media, his nationalistic stance and emphasis on US first, his disdain of international agreement and free trade.

Same tendencies can be found in his words and actions, or attempts to action, as president. And he does not hold back in his admiration for Putin as a person and a leader.

Last year, Republican Congressman and the House majority leader Kevin McCarthy was caught on tape saying: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” McCarthy now says this was only a poor joke. However, indications of a much more direct Russian Trump connection than only an ideological dallying with anti-democratic ideas have now led to the investigation led by Richard Mueller.

Make Russia great again

Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper recently said that Trump’s actions were “making Russia great again.” – There is a certain irony that a US President who got voted on the slogan Make America Great Again is now being investigated for Russian ties – and one does not need Cold War glasses to understand the severity of the allegations.

But in many ways, Trump is only the icing on a Russian pie, rich of intriguing Russian ties to Washington DC. There is Rohrabacher, as mentioned earlier. Unconnected to Trump and not under investigation as far as is known, Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has a particular interesting history of Russian relations. Ross led a group of investors recapitalising Bank of Cyprus in 2014, a year after a financial crisis shook the island, a safe haven for Russian money. Ross ousted some Russians from the board, leading to speculations he was not at all a friend of Russia.

However, Viktor Vekselberg, seen as central part of Putin’s financial empire, is now the largest single shareholder in Bank of Cyprus with a representative on the board. Ross appointed Joseph Ackerman, CEO of Deutsche Bank 2002 to 2012, as a chairman of the board of Bank of Cyprus. Deutsche Bank was so active in Russia in the 1990s that one source told me the bank should have been called Russische Bank. In January 2017 Deutsche was fined $630m for having laundered $10bn on behalf of Russians.

As sources indicate that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met Russian officials during the Trump campaign in spite of his earlier categorical denials Sessions is now under renewed pressure to testify again. Then there are the contacts Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner and Trump’s son Donald Junior had with Russians. Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn lost their jobs due to Russian ties. (See here a Washington Post overview over Team Trump and its Russian connections.)

Burt and his network

Richard Burt, a former journalist, US Ambassador in Federal Republic of Germany 1985 to 1989 during the Reagan administration and a known lobbyist for Russian interests, is one of those who have suddenly been swept into the limelight because of the investigation into Trump’s Russian connections.

Burt has confirmed that he was present at two dinners hosted by Jeff Sessions during the 2016 campaign. Sessions had explicitly denied having met any lobbyists working on behalf of the Russians. Burt said to the Guardian that Sessions possibly did not know of his activities though they are widely known in Washington.

It now seems certain that Sessions met Sergey Kislyak, who until recently was the Russian Ambassador to the US, at an event in April 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel, hosted by the magazine The National Interest in Washington. At this event Trump delivered his first major speech on foreign affairs. Burt was an adviser on that speech but has said little from his notes was taken up in the speech.

An article in April this year in The National Interest, published by the think tank Center for the National Interest where Burt is on the board, gives an idea of Burt’s view on Russia. In “A Grand Strategy for Trump” Burt advocates that a US military build-up could incentivise Russia “to seek a more productive relationship with the West.” Other steps would be “finding a settlement in Ukraine, examining ways to cooperate in fighting ISIS, and addressing a new agenda of military threats and non-proliferation.”

The problem, according to Burt, is the “current Russiagate mania” “a partisan and increasingly hysterical debate in Washington over what, if anything, the Trump campaign did to assist Russian hackers in intervening in the 2016 elections.” Quoting Henry Kissinger that “demonizing Putin is not a strategy” Burt then asks: “if the United States gave up, at least for now, its twenty-five-year-old policy of turning Russia into a Western-style democracy, but instead focused on the external threats it poses, would a more politically secure Kremlin be prepared to respond positively?”

Burt is a managing director at McLarty Associates, previously part of Kissinger McLarty Associates. In his role at McLarty he has been a lobbyist for Nord Stream II. In addition he is on the board of Deutsche Bank closed-end funds. He has also been an adviser for Alfa Capital Partners, the investment arm of Alfa Bank, operating in Russia, the Netherlands, UK, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

The Group’s largest investor, holding 32.8%, is Mikhail Fridman, the Ukrainian oligarch who over the years has managed to distance himself from Russia and Kremlin with his wealth intact in spite of some skirmishes: Fridman was forced to sell his stake in the oil company TNK-BP, the Russian joint venture with the BP, to the Kremlin controlled Rosneft but he apparently got a full price in cash at the top of the cycle, according to a Forbes in November 2016, written when Alfa had become part of … yes, the Trump story.

Incidentally, Gerhard Schröder sat for a while on the board of the TNK-BP. And Deutsche Bank has over the years been the largest lender to the Trump empire.

The Magnitsky prism: what does it mean talking about adoption?

“It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about — things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption… We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he (Putin) ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was a part of the conversation that Don [Jr., Mr. Trump’s son] had in that meeting.” – This is how Trump described his tête-à-tête with Putin at the G20 dinner in July in a New York Times interview.

Talking about adoption sounds very innocent – except the context is less so: Putin put an end to Americans adopting Russian children in retaliation to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, passed in the US in 2012. Only now is a similar act finding its way into UK law in the Criminal Finance Bill. Similar law is being passed in Canada, Estonia has already its Magnitsky Act and it has been discussed in the EU.

The hedge fund manager Bill Browder hired Magnitsky as his lawyer but after exposing $230m tax fraud enriching Putin and his cohort, Magnitsky was imprisoned in Moscow in autumn 2008 and died from torture in prison a year later. Browder’s book “Red Notice” (2015) is a horrifying exposé of the whole fraud saga leading to Magnitsky’s death.

As Browder explained in a recent interview, Kremlin pays the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others millions to lobby against the Magnitsky Act. In addition to being Browder’s nemesis in fighting the Magnitsky Act she has represented Russians, with ties to Kremlin, who had their assets frozen by the US Department of Justice frozen due to the Act.

In general, corrupt politicians and officials need to get their funds abroad in order to be able to make use of these funds to pay bribes, invest etc. An essential part of corruption is of course that it is hidden and those who operate by corrupt means operate through others. With funds abroad they can promise the helpers impunity and payment abroad.

Putin, often estimated to be the richest man in the world, is no exception: if the flow of funds abroad is hindered his power is seriously diminished. The Magnitsky Act hits this flow and has exposed Putin’s Achilles heal.

Trump’s interest in adoption relates directly to the campaign against the Magnitsky Act, exposes the Russian enablers and the extensive Russian attempts to influence US politics, ultimately a serious threat to the security of the West and rule of law and democracy.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

July 26th, 2017 at 9:56 am

Posted in Uncategorised

No end to the Greek government’s relentless persecution of ELSTAT staff

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In spite of earlier promises to the Eurogroup the Greek government continues to persecute former head of ELSTAT Andreas Georgiou and two of his former senior staff. As long as the never-ending prosecutions continue the Greek government cannot claim it is seriously committed to turn the country around. By continuing these persecutions the Greek government is clinging to the story that the fraudulent statistics from around 2000 to 2009 are the correct ones, thereby in effect presenting the 2010 revisions as criminal misreporting. Thus, the Eurogroup and other international partners should refuse to cooperate with the Greek government as long as these trials continue.

In spite of earlier acquittals time and again, Greek authorities keep finding new ways to prosecute the former head of ELSTAT. The latest development happened last week, July 18 and 19. As at the trial in May, there was a shouting and insulting mob of around thirty people present in court at the trial on July 18 when Georgiou was being tried for alleged violation of duty. The mob was clearly cheering on the accusation witnesses in a disturbing way; again, something that would be unthinkable in any civilised country.

On July 19, the Chief Prosecutor of the Greek Supreme Court proposed yet again to annul the acquittal of Georgiou and two senior ELSTAT staff for allegedly intentionally inflating the 2009 government deficit and causing Greece a damage of €171bn.

Mob trial

After being unanimously found innocent of charges of violation of duty in December last year by a panel of three judges, as the trial prosecutor had recommended, this acquittal was annulled by another prosecutor. This is how this farce and mockery of justice has been kept going: acquittals are annulled and on goes the persecution.

This trial will now continue on 31 July when judgement is also expected – and it can be fully expected that Georgiou will be found guilty.

This report from Pastras Times gives an idea of the atmosphere at the trial: The professor [Z. Georganda] argued that from the data she has at her disposal, she considers that the 2009 government deficit was around 4 to 5% [of GDP] – a statement, which ignited the reaction of the audience that began applauding and shouting: “Traitors” “Hang them on Syntagma square”… The witness continued her point arguing that Greece had one of the lowest deficits “but we could and we were paying our debts because there was economic activity. Georgiou led the country to prolonged recession.” Ms. Georganda said characteristically, causing the audience to explode anew.

A pattern over six years: acquittals followed by repeated prosecution

As everyone who knows the story of the discoveries made in 2009 and 2010 of the Greek state statistics Georganda’s arguments are a total travesty of the facts, a story earlier recounted on Icelog (here the long story of the fraudulent stats and the revisions in 2010; here some blogs on the course of this horrendous saga).

July 19 was the deadline for the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, Xeni Demetriou to make a proposal for annulment of the decision of the Appeals Court Council to acquit Georgiou and two former senior ELSTAT staff of the charge of making false statements about the 2009 government deficit and causing Greece a damage of €171bn. Demitrou opted to propose to annul the acquittal decision.

The Criminal Section of the Supreme Court will now consider her proposal for the annulment of the acquittal. If the latter agrees with the proposal of the Chief Prosecutor of Greece, the case will be re-examined by the Appeals Court Council. If the Appeals Court Council, under a new composition, then decides to not acquit Georgiou and his colleagues, the three will be subjected to full a trial by the Appeals Court. If convicted they face a sentence of up to life in prison.

This would then be yet another round of the same case: in September 2015, the same Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, then a Deputy Prosecutor, proposed the annulment of the then existing acquittal decision of the Appeals Court Council. In August 2016, the Criminal Section of the Supreme Court agreed to this proposal, which is why the Appeals Court Council re-considered the case.

And so it goes in circles, seemingly until the legal process gets to the “right result” – trial and conviction.

Can the three ELSTAT staff get a fair trial?

Given the fact that the same case goes in circles – with one part of the system agreeing to acquittals, which then are thrown out, in the same case – it can only be concluded that Andreas Georgiou and his two ELSTAT colleagues are indeed being persecuted for fulfilling the standard of EU law, as of course required by Eurostat and other international organisations.

As this saga has been on-going for six years it seems that the three simply cannot get a fair hearing in Greece. This raises serious questions about the rule of law in Greece and the state of human rights there.

At the same time the last chapter in this six-year saga took place now in July, €7.7bn of EU taxpayer funds, a tranche of EU and IMF funds for Greece, was paid out. This, inter alia on the basis of the statistics revised in 2010, for which the Greek state keeps prosecuting the ELSTAT statisticians thereby de facto claiming these statistics were the product of criminal misreporting.

Tsakalotos breaks his promise

As reported earlier on Icelog the Eurogroup has clearly noticed the ELSTAT case: at the Eurogroup meeting of 22 May ECB governor Mario Draghi raised the matter, saying that as agreed earlier, priority should be given to implementing “actions on ELSTAT that have been agreed in the context of the programme. Current and former ELSTAT presidents should be indemnified against all costs arising from legal actions against them and their staff.”

Greek minister of finance Euclid Tsakalotos announced that “On ELSTAT, we are happy for this to become a key deliverable before July.”

In an apparent attempt to appease the Eurogroup, it was announced this week that ELSTAT will pay legal costs for the former ELSTAT employees facing trial. However, the legal provision proposed by the government is wholly inadequate and may actually do more harm than good to Georgiou and his colleagues.

For example, it says that these official statisticians will have to return any funds they get if they are convicted. This is legislating perverse incentives. It is like saying: Convict them otherwise we will have to pay them.

The proposed legislation also puts a very low limit on the amounts that would be covered. In addition, it would not cover costs of legal counsel, costs of interpretation of foreign witnesses, nor would it cover the cost of travel and accommodation of these witnesses when they come to Greece abroad to be defence witnesses for Georgiou. There also seems to be a labyrinthine process for accessing the funds making it unlikely the accused will ever see any reimbursement of cost.

It is thus quite clear from events this week that not only has Tsakalotos broken the promise he gave to Draghi and the Eurogroup in May – he clearly has no intention of keeping it. The question is how long the Eurogroup will tolerate broken promises and the fact that by prosecuting the ELSTAT staff the Greek government does indeed keep portraying the revised statistics as criminal misreporting.

 
Screenshot 2017-07-24 21.15.44According the Kathimerini‘s cartoonist, the ELSTAT saga is a simple one: New Democracy PM 2004 to 2009 Kostas Karamanlis is unwilling to let go of the persecution – “You thought you would get away? Where do you think you are going, eh Georgiou?”

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

July 24th, 2017 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

Will special counsel Mueller surprise with Icelandic Russia-related stories?

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The Russian Icelandic connections keep stimulating the fantasy. In a recent Bloomberg article Timothy L. O’Brien calls on special counsel Robert Mueller to “check out Iceland.” The facts are indeed elusive but Mueller and his team should be in an ace position to discover whatever there is to discover, via FL Group. If there is no story untold re Russia and Iceland, the unwillingness of the British government to challenge Russian interests is another intriguing Russia-related topic to explore.

“Iceland, Russia and Bayrock – some facts, less fiction” was my recent contribution to the fast growing compendium of articles on potential or alleged connections between nefarious Russian forces and Iceland. The recent Bloomberg article by Timothy L. O’Brien adds nothing new to the topic in terms of tangible facts.

The Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky was one of those who early on aired the potential connection. Already in 2009, in a Sky interview that O’Brien mentions, Berezovsky made sweeping comments but gave no concrete evidence, as can be heard here in the seven minutes long interview.

What however Berezovsky says regarding London, the dirty money pouring into London is correct. That flow has been going on for a long time and will no doubt continue: it doesn’t seem to matter who is in power in Britain, the door to Russian money and dirty inflow in general is always open, serviced by the big banks and the enablers, such as accountants and lawyers, operating in London.

What Berezovsky really said

Asked how Putin and the oligarchs operated, Berezovsky said they bought assets all over the world but also took on a lot of debt. “They took a lot of credit from the banks and so they were not able to pay that back. And the best example is definitely Iceland. And you remember when lets say three months ago Russian government declared that they would help Iceland. And Russia is so strong that they’re able to help even a member of Nato. And their trick is very simple because Russian let’s say top level bureaucrats like Putin, like others and oligarchs together they created system how to operate on the West. How to use this fantastic money to buy assets and so and so. They found this very clever solution. They took a country and bought the country, which is member of Nato, which is not a member of EU. It means that regulation is different. They put a lot of money, dirty money in general, yeah.

When asked further if Russians were buying high-end property in London with dirty money Berezovsky said this was indeed the case, all done to gain power: “The example which I gave you. As far as Iceland is concerned just confirmed realistically that Putin and his cronies made absolutely dirty money and tried to invest their money all over the world including Britain.”

This is very much Berezovsky but hardly a clear exposé. Exactly what the connection was, through the banks or the country as a whole isn’t clear. Sadly, Berezovsky died in 2013, under what some see as mysterious circumstances, others consider it a suicide. Incidentally, Berezovsky’s death is one of fourteen deaths in the UK involving Russians, enablers to Russian oligarchs or others with some Russian ties, recently investigated in four articles by Buzzfeed.

The funding of the Icelandic banks – yet again

In his Bloomberg article O’Brien visits the topic of the funding of the Icelandic banks. As I mentioned in my previous Russia blog, the rumours regarding the Russian Icelandic connections and the funding of the Icelandic banks were put to rest with the report of the Special Investigative Commission, SIC. The report analysed the funding the banks sought on international markets, from big banks that then turned into creditors when the banks failed.

O’Brien’s quotes Eva Joly the French investigative judge, now an MEP, who advised Icelandic authorities when they were taking the first steps towards investigating the operations of the then failed banks. Joly says that the Russian question should be asked. “There was a huge amount of money that came into these banks that wasn’t entirely explained by central bank lending,” Joly is quoted as saying, adding “Only Mafia-like groups fill a gap like that.”

I’m not sure where the misunderstanding crept in but of course the Icelandic central bank was not funding the Icelandic banks. As the SIC report clearly showed, the Icelandic banks, as most other banks, sought and found easy funding by issuing bonds abroad at the time when markets were flooded by cheap money. Prosecutor Ólafur Hauksson, who has been in charge of the nine-year banking investigations in Iceland, says to O’Brien that he and his team have not seen any evidence of money laundering but adds that the Icelandic investigations have not focused on international money flows via the banks.

As I pointed out in my earlier Russia blog, the Jody Kriss evidence, from court documents in his proceedings against Bayrock, the company connected to president Donald Trump, is again inconclusive. Something that Kriss himself points out; Kriss is quoting rumours and has nothing more to add to them.

Why and how would money have been laundered through Icelandic banks?

The main purpose of money laundering is to provide illicit money with licit origin. Money laundering in big banks like HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Wachovia is well documented and in general, patterns of money laundering are well established. The Russian Icelandic story will not be any better by repeating the scanty indications. We could turn the story around and ask: if the banks were really used by Russians or any other organized crime how would they have done it?

One pattern is so-called back-to-back loans, i.e. illicit money is deposited in a bank (which then ignores “know your customer” regulation) but taken out as a loan issued by that bank. That gives these funds a legitimate origin; they are now a loan. As far as I understand, there are no sign of this pattern in any of the Icelandic banks.

When Wachovia laundered money for Mexican drug lords cash was deposited with forex exchanges, doing business with Wachovia. The bank brought the funds to Wachovia branches in the US, either via wire transfers, travellers’ cheques or as part of the bank’s cash-moving operations. When the funds were then made available to the drug lords again in Mexico, it seemed as if the money was coming from the US, enough to give the illegitimate funds a legitimate sheen. Nothing like these operations was part of what the Icelandic banks were doing.

Money laundering outside the banks?

There might of course have been other ways of laundering money but again the question is from where to where. As I mentioned in my Russia blog, FL Group, the company connected to the Bayrock story, was short-lived but attracted and lost a spectacular amount of money. As did other Icelandic companies, which have since failed: there could be potential patterns of money laundering there though again there are no Russians in sight (except for Bayrock) – or simply examples of disastrously bad management.

Russians, or anyone else, certainly would not need Icelandic banks to move funds for example into the UK – the big banks were willing to and able to do it, as can be seen from the oligarchs and others with shady funds buying property in London. It was eye-opening to join one of the London tours organised by Kleptocracy Tours and see the various spectacular properties owned by Russian oligarchs here in London.

The Magnitsky Act was introduced in the US in 2012 but is only finding its way into UK law this year in the Criminal Finances Bill, meant to enable asset freezing and denying visa to foreign officials known to be corrupt and having violated human rights.

The Icelandic banks – the most investigated banks

There were indeed real connections to Russians in the Icelandic banks as I listed in my previous Russia blog. In addition, Kaupthing financed the super yacht Serene for Yuri Shefler with a loan of €79.5m according to a leaked overview of Kauthing lending, from September 2008. These customers were among Kaupthing non-Russian high-flying London customers, mostly clients in Kaupthing Luxembourg, such as Alshair Fiyaz, Simon Halabi, Mike Ashley and Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz.

None of the tangible evidence corroborates the story of the Icelandic banks being some gigantic Russian money laundering machine. That said, I have heard from investigators who claim they are about to unearth more material.

In the meantime we should not forget that Iceland has diligently been prosecuting bankers for financial assistance, breach of fiduciary duty and market manipulation – almost thirty bankers and others close to the banks have been sentenced to prison. Now that 2008 investigations are drawing to a close in Iceland, four Barclays bankers are facing charges in London, the first SFO case related to events in 2008, in a case very similar to one of the Icelandic cases, as I have pointed out earlier.

Exactly because the Icelandic banks have been so thoroughly investigated and so much is known about them, their clients etc., it is difficult to imagine there are humongous stories there waiting to be told. But perhaps Robert Mueller and his team will surprise us.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

July 5th, 2017 at 10:49 am

Posted in Uncategorised

The Icelandic al Thani case and the British al Thani / Barclays case

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Prosecuting big banks and senior bankers is hard for many reasons: they hire big name lawyers that fight tooth and nail, with delays, deviations and imaginable and unimaginable obstructions of all sorts. PR firms are hired to deviate and create smoke and mirrors. And some journalists seem easily to identify with the pillars of financial society, even talking about “victimless crime.” All of this springs to mind regarding the SFO charges against John Varley former CEO of Barclays and three senior managers – where an Icelandic parallel can possibly throw some light on the few facts in the case of Varley e.al.

In the summer of 2008, as liquidity was tight for many banks, two high-flying banks in the London business community, Barclays and Kaupthing, were struggling. Both sought salvation from Qatari investors. Not the same investors though the name al Thani, a ruling clan in the dessert state of Qatar, figures in both investment stories.

In 2012 as the Icelandic Office of the Special Prosecutor, OSP, brought charges against three Kaupthing managers and the bank’s second largest investor Ólafur Ólafsson, related to Qatari investment in Kaupthing in September 2008, the British Serious Fraud Office, SFO, was just about to start an investigation into the 2008 Qatari investment in Barclays.

In 2015 the four Icelanders were sentenced to 4 to 5 1/2 years in prison for fraudulent lending and market manipulation (see my overview here). SFO is now bringing ex CEO John Varley and three senior Barclays bankers to court on July 3 on the basis of similar charges. As the first UK bankers are charged for actions during the 2008 crisis such investigations are coming to a close in Iceland where almost 30 bankers and others have been sentenced since 2011 in crisis-related cases.

The Kaupthing charges in 2012 filled fourteen pages, explaining the alleged criminal deeds. That is sadly not the case with the SFO Barclays charges: only the alleged offences are made public. Given the similarities of the two cases it is however tempting to use the Icelandic case to throw some light on the British case.

SFO is scarred after earlier mishaps. But is the SFO investigation perhaps just a complete misunderstanding and a “victimless crime” as BBC business editor Simon Jack alleges? That is certainly what the charged bankers would like us to believe but in cases of financial assistance and market manipulation, everyone acting in the financial market is the victim.

These crimes wholly undermine the level playing field regulators strive to create. Do we want to live in a society where it is acceptable to commit a crime if it saves a certain amount of taxpayers’ money but ends up destroying the market supposedly a foundation of our economy?

The Barclays and Kaupthing charges – basically the same

When the Icelandic state prosecutor brings charges the underlying writ can be made public three days later. The writ carefully explains the alleged criminal deeds, quoting evidence that underpins the charges. Thus, Icelanders knew from 2012 the underlying deeds in the Icelandic case, called the al Thani case after the investor Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Thani who was not charged.

 

As to the SFO charges in the Barclays case we only know this:

Conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation in relation to the June 2008 capital raising, contrary to s1 and s2 of the Fraud Act 2006 and s1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977 – Barclays Plc, John Varley, Roger Jenkins, Thomas Kalaris and Richard Boath.

Conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation in relation to the October 2008 capital raising, contrary to s1 and s2 of the Fraud Act 2006 and s1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977 – Barclays Plc, John Varley and Roger Jenkins.

Unlawful financial assistance contrary to s151 of the Companies Act 1985 – Barclays Plc, John Varley and Roger Jenkins.

The Gulf investors named in 2008 were Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister at the time and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi. The side deals the bankers are charged for relate to the Qatari part of the investment, i.e. Barclays capital raising arrangements with Qatar Holding LLC, part of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and al Thani’s investment vehicle Challenger Universal Ltd and $3bn loan issued by Barclays to the State of Qatar, acting through the Ministry of Economy and Finance in November 2008.

Viewing the Barclays side deals via the Kaupthing case

The Barclays saga is allegedly that apart from the Qatari investments in Barclays in June and October 2008, in total £6.1bn, there were two side deals, allegedly financial assistance: Barclays promised to pay £322m to Qatari investors, apparently fee for helping Barclays with business development in the Gulf; in November 2008, Barclays agreed to issue a loan of $3bn to the State of Qatar, allegedly fitting the funds prime minister Sheikh al Thani invested, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Thus it seems the Barclays bankers (all four following the June 2008 investment, two of them following the October investment) were allegedly misleading the markets, i.e. market manipulation, when they commented on the two Qatari investments.

If we take cue from the Icelandic al Thani case it is most likely that the Barclays managers begged and pestered the Gulf investors, known for their deep pockets, to invest.

In the al Thani case, the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund had earlier considered buying Kaupthing shares but thought the price was too high. Kaupthing then wooed the Qatari investors with some good offers.

What Kaupthing promised was a “risk-free” loan, a classic Kaupthing special offer to special clients, to place as an investment in Kaupthing. In other words, there was never any money coming into Kaupthing as an investment. It was just money merry-go-round from one Kaupthing account to another: funds going out as a loan and coming back as an investment. In addition, the investors got a loan of $50m directly into their pockets, defined as pre-paid profit.

Barclays hardly made such a crude offer to the Qatari investors but the £322m fee leads the thought to the pre-paid profit in the Kaupthing saga; the Barclays fee could allegedly be defined as pre-payment for services-to-come.

The $3bn loan to the state of Qatar is intriguing, given that the state of Qatar is and the finances of its ruling family have allegedly often seemed closely connected.

What we don’t know regarding the Barclays side deals

The September 2008 Qatari investment in Kaupthing figured in the 2010 report of the Special Investigative Commission, SIC, a report that thoroughly explained and mapped the operations of the Icelandic banks up to the 2008 collapse. The criminal case added details to the SIC saga. It is for example clear that Kaupthing didn’t really expect the Gulf investors to pay back the investment but handed them $50m right away.

Little is yet known about the details of the alleged Barclays side deals. How were the covenants for the $3bn loan? Has this loan been repaid or is it still on Barclays books? And was the service for the £322m ever carried out? Was there any specification as to what Barclays was paying for? Why were these services apparently pre-paid instead of being paid against an invoice after the services had been carried out?

These are some of the things we would need to know in order to assess the side deals and their context and connections to the Qatari investment in Barclays. Clearly, the SFO knows and this will no doubt be part of the coming court case.

The whiff of Qatari investors and how it touches Deutsche Bank

The Kaupthing resolution committee went after the Qatari investors to recover the loans, threatening them with legal proceedings. Investigators from the Office of the Special Prosecutor did question the investors.

According to Icelog sources, the Qatari investors were adamant about clarifying the situation both with Kaupthing and the OSP. The understanding was that the investors were worried about their reputation. They did in the end reach a settlement with the Kaupthing resolution committee as Kaupthing announced in 2013.

These two investment sagas do however leave a certain whiff. In August last year, when it transpired that Qatari investors had invested in troubled Deutsche Bank I sent a query to Deutsche’s spokesman asking if the bank was possibly lending the investors money. I got a stern reply that I was hinting at Deutsche committing a legal offense (well, as if Deutsche had not been found to have rigged markets, assisted in money laundering etc) but was later assured that no, Deutsche had not given any financial assistance to its Qatari investors, no side deals related to their investment in the bank.

Companies don’t commit crimes – people do

Although certainly not the only one, Barclays is a bank with a long register of recent financial sins, inter alia: in 2012 it paid a fine of £290m for Libor manipulation; in 2015 it paid £2.3bn for rigging FX markets and £72m to settle money laundering offenses.

As to lessons learnt: this spring, it turned out that Barclays CEO Jes Staley, has broken whistleblower-rules by trying to unmask a Barclays whistleblower. CEOs have been remarkably short lived at Barclays since Varley left in 2010: his successor Bob Diamond was forced out in 2012, replaced by Antony Jenkins who had to leave in 2015, followed by Jes Staley.

In spite of Barclays being fined for matters, which are a criminal offence, the SFO has treated these crimes (and similar offences in many other banks) as crimes not committed by people but companies, i.e. no Barclays bankers have been charged… until now.

After all, continuously breaking the law in multiple offences over a decade, under various CEOs indicates that something is seriously wrong at Barclays (and in many other big banks). Normally, criminals are not allowed just to pay their way out of criminal deeds. In the case of banking fines banks have actually paid with funds accrued by criminal offences. Ironically, banks pay fines with shareholders’ money and most often, senior managers have not even taken a pay cut following costs arising from their deeds.

In all its unknown details the Barclays case is no doubt far from simple. But compared to FX or Libor rigging, it is manageable, its focus being the two investments, in June and October 2008, the £322m fee and the November 2008 loan of $3bn.

The BBC is not amused… at SFO charges

Instead of seeing the merit in this heroic effort by the SFO BBC’s business editor Simon Jack is greatly worried, after talking to what only appear to be Barclays insiders. There is no voice in his comment expressing any sympathy with the rule of law rather than the culpable bankers.

Jack asks: Why, over the past decade, has the SFO been at its most dogged in the pursuit of a bank that DIDN’T require a taxpayer bailout? In fact, it was Barclays’ very efforts to SPARE the taxpayer that gave rise to this investigation.

This is of course exactly the question and answer one would hear from the charged bankers but it is unexpected to see this argument voiced by the BBC business editor on a BBC website as an argument against an investigation. In the Icelandic al Thani case, those charged and eventually sentenced also found it grossly unfair that they were charged for saving the bank… with criminal means.

Jack’s reasoning seems to justify a criminal act if the goal is deemed as positive and good for society. One thing for sure, such a society is not optimal for running a company – the healthiest and most competitive business environment surely is one where the rule of law can be taken for granted.

Another underlying assumption here is that the Barclays management sought to safe the bank by criminal means in order to spare the taxpayer the expense of a bailout. Perhaps a lovely thought but a highly unlikely one. There were plenty of commentaries in 2008 pointing out that what really drove Barclays’ John Varley and his trusted lieutenants hard to seek investors was their sincere wish to avoid any meddling into Barclays bonuses etc.

Is the alleged Barclays fraud a “victimless crime”?

It’s worth remembering that taxpayers didn’t bail out Barclays and small shareholders didn’t suffer the massive losses that those of RBS and Lloyds did. One former Barclays insider said that if there was a crime then it was “victimless” and you could argue that Barclays – and its executives – did taxpayers and its own shareholders a massive favour, writes Jack.

It comes as no surprise that “one former Barclays insider” would claim that saving a bank, even by breaking the law, is just fine and actually a good deed. For anyone who is not a Barclays insider it is a profound and shocking misunderstanding that a financial crime like the Barclays directors allegedly committed is victimless just because no one is walking out of Barclays with a tangible loss or the victims can’t be caught on a photo.

We don’t know in detail how Barclays was managed, there is no British SIC report. So we don’t know if the $3bn loan has been paid back. If it was not repaid or had abnormally weak covenants it makes all Barclays clients a victim because they will have had to pay, in one way or another, for that loan.

Even if the loan was normal and has been paid a bank that uses criminal deeds to survive turns the whole society into the victims of its criminal deeds: financial assistance and market manipulation skew the business environment, making the level playing field very uneven.

Pushing Jack’s argument further it could be conclude that the RBS and Lloyds managers at the time did evil by not using criminal deeds to save their banks, compared to the saintly Barclays managers who did – a truly absurd statement.

Charging those at the top compared to charging only the “arms” of the top managers, i.e. those who carry out the commands of senior managers, shows that the SFO understands how a company like Barclays functions; making side deals like these is not decided by low-level staff. Further, again with an Icelandic cue, it is highly likely that the SFO has tangible evidence like emails, recordings of phone calls etc. implicating the four charged managers.

The Barclays battles to come

Criminal investigations are partly to investigate what happened, partly a deterrent and partly to teach a lesson. If the buck stops at the top, charging those at the top is the right thing to do when these managers orchestrate potentially criminal actions.

But those at the top have ample means to defend themselves. Icelandic authorities now have a considerable experience in prosecuting alleged crimes committed by bankers and other wealthy individuals.

And Icelanders also have an experience in observing how wealthy defendants react: how they try to manipulate the media via their own websites and/or social media, by paying PR firms to orchestrate their narrative, how their lawyers or other pillars of society, strongly identifying with the defendants, continue to refute sentences outside of the court room etc. And how judges, prosecutors and other authorities come under ferocious attack from the charged or sentenced individuals and their errand boys.

All of this is nothing new; we have seen this pattern in other cases where wealth clashes with the law. And since this is nothing new, it is stunning to read such a blatant apology for the charged Barclays managers on the website of the British public broadcaster. Even if the SFO prosecution against the Barclays bankers were to fail apologising the bankers ignores the general interest of society in maintaining a rule of law for everyone without any grace and favour for wealth and social standing.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

June 26th, 2017 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorised