Today, the Office of the Special Prosecutor conducted house searches at several premises in Iceland, related to an investigation into Landsbanki. Seven people, among them the bank’s ex-CEO Sigurjon Arnason, are being questioned but it’s unclear if anyone will be held in custody.
According to Icelandic media today, the searches are related to four topics:
1. Alleged market manipulation related to shares in Landsbanki.
2. Loans to four companies Hunslow S.A., Bruce Assets Limited, Pro-Invest Partners Corp and Sigurdur Bollason ehf. to buy shares in Landsbanki.
3. Landsbanki Luxembourg’s sale of loans to Landsbanki only a few days before the bank collapsed in Oct. 2008.
4. The buying of shares by eight offshore companies that supposedly were set up to hold shares related to employees’ options.
Sigurdur Bollason is an Icelandic businessman, often connected to Baugur companies and a friend and associate of Magnus Armann, another Baugur associate. According to my sources Bollason, who imported UK high street fashion to Iceland over a decade ago, met Kevin Stanford, through business with Karen Millen, then Stanford’s wife. That’s how Stanford became connected to Icelandic banks and businesses, first with Baugur, where he was often a co-investor, and later with Kaupthing where he was involved in the financial high-wire acts that Kaupthing engaged in.
Hunslow S.A. was registered in Panama in Feb. 2008. In November 2009 two Novator companies (Novator is the investment fund of Bjorgolfur Thor Bjorgolfsson who was a major shareholder in Landsbanki and Straumur investment bank together with his father) were registered in Panama with the same law firm as Hunslow. The same five directors are on the board of the two Novator companies and Hunslow but there are probably hundreds of companies registered at this one law firm. I have no information on Bruce and Pro-Invest.
The loans moved from Landsbanki Luxembourg to Landsbanki Iceland on Oct. 3 2008 amounted to €784m. By far the largest loan had been assigned to Bjorgolfsson, €225m. (The complete list of the loans is here, from the SIC report, ‘Tafla 20’) but the four companies mentioned above are also on the list.
I find it interesting that the OSP is investigating the offshore companies that Landsbanki set up to own shares in itself. The first of these companies was set up in Guernsey in 2000, before the privatisation of Landsbanki in 2002 but later seven more were set up in the BVI and in Panama. To begin with, the bank financed these companies but later one was financed by Kaupthing and six by Straumur, from 2006 when Bjorgolfsson and his father were major owners in Straumur. Bjorgolfsson was Straumur’s chairman.
In total, these companies owned 13,2% of the shares in Landsbanki. Normally, similar structures holding shares for staff option usually don’t own more than 1-2%. The SIC report maps these companies but the weird thing is that although they were apparently set up to hold shares for options they don’t seem to have been used for that purpose. The ownership in each company was held below 5%.
With the bank owning 13,2% via these companies (above the 10% legal limit of own shares) and father and son owning around 45,8% of the bank the majority was assured. Another interesting aspect of these companies is that Straumur lent them against no collaterals. This isn’t the only example of the very close relationship between the two banks where father and son were the major shareholders. Neither of the two are being questioned today.
*Last October I reported on these offshore companies for Ruv. Bjorgolfsson was very upset, according to his spokeswoman, about my reporting and did eventually file a complaint to the Icelandic Press Complaints Commission. The PCC has dismissed the complaint. Here is a story about his spokeswoman when she wasn’t happy about Iceland Weather Report reporting on Bjorgolfsson.
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