Published November 13, 2012
Norwegian-French magistrate Eva Joly delivered a compelling speech at Harpa on October 19, covering everything from Iceland’s financial investigations post-crash to reaffirming her opinion that Iceland should join the EU.
Joly, who served as assistant to Iceland’s Special Prosecutor after the 2008 banking collapse, was invited to speak by the University of Iceland’s business department. It was her first trip to Iceland since 2010. “In two years time, so many positive things have happened,” Joly said. “The prosecutions have started and the legal system is strong enough to handle the cases.
There are a number of investigations being carried out by the Special Prosecutor’s Office, which was created in December 2008. For instance, charges have been brought against bankers at Glitnir Bank and Kaupthing.
Iceland was also the first nation to bring charges against a former leader. In March, Iceland’s former Prime Minister, Geir Haarde, was charged with gross negligence related to the economic collapse. Haarde was eventually found guilty on one of four charges for not holding cabinet meetings on important issues, which was a minor offense that did not call for punishment.
Joly stressed that Icelanders should take pride in the investigations and that Iceland serves as a role model for other nations contemplating prosecutions. “You should be proud you invested in these investigations,” Joly said. “But, there needs to be patience; it’s only been three years since investigations began.”
The larger picture, however, is whether the culture in the banks that brought about the collapse has changed. Joly is pessimistic. “Nothing has changed in the morality; banks operate in the same way,” she said. “The greed issue is due to a loss of values; that money is the only value,” she said. “But, we not only lost our values; we lost the distinction between right and wrong. This is why the judiciary is so important. There are rules for banks and when they don’t follow the rules, they will be prosecuted. They should be prosecuted every time.”
Nations need to reconsider how they prosecute crime: “We are only prosecuting violent criminality, not environmental or economic criminality,” she said.
Fanning the EU flames
Joly was unapologetically pro-EU throughout her speech, even citing the recent Nobel Peace Prize the body was awarded. “Looking back at what Europe has achieved over 60 years…it brought peace and prosperity,” Joly said, amid snickers from the crowd.
During the Q&A session that followed her speech, discussion inevitably turned to whether Iceland should join the EU. Joly famously shocked many Icelanders when she said in 2010 that Iceland should join the European Union. “You are already living with the EU regulations because you are part of the EEA,” she said. “You are living them, but not negotiating as an EU member.”
Joly said that she does not believe that EU members would exploit Iceland’s resources. On the contrary, she said she believes joining the EU would give Iceland even greater bargaining power. As a member of the EU, Iceland could negotiate for the protection of their natural resources and fishing waters. “Selling off the public good is a scandal,” she said. “We don’t want to sell away the islands in Greece to rich oligarch Russians and we want your energy to stay Icelandic.”
Fielding a question on the distrust of Icelandic banks that lingers four years after the collapse, Joly urged caution: “As for small investors, you are the people being fooled all over the world. Life is built on trust, but you must choose whom to trust. You should invest in only what you understand.”
The office was created in December 2008 to investigate suspicions of criminal actions leading up to, and in the wake of the financial collapse. Eva Joly helped establish the office, serving as a special advisor for 18 months.
It’s headed by Ólafur Hauksson, who was previously the Akranes District Commissioner.
What has (and hasn’t) been accomplished in four years time:
• Charges were brought against former Prime Minister Geir Haarde. He was eventually found guilty of one of four charges, which did not bring a penalty.
• Charges were brought against Lárus Welding, the former CEO of now-defunct Glitnir Bank. Another banker at Glitnir, Guðmundur Hjaltason, was brought up on charges.
• Charges were brought against Kaupþing Bank executives Hreiðar Már Sigurðsson, Sigurður Einarsson, Ólafur Ólafsson and Magnús Guðmundsson. Hreiðar Már and Sigurður were charged for breach of trust and market abuse, and Magnús and Ólafur for being accomplice to both.
• The headquarters of investment firm Arðvis in Kópavogur were raided. Some of the company’s representatives were arrested and then released.
• Many of Iceland’s business leaders remain under scrutiny, including: Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson and Jóhannes Jónsson, the owners of the Baugur Group retail empire; Lýður Guðmundsson and Ágúst Guðmundsson, the frozen food investors who were in charge of Kaupthing; and Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson and Björgólfur Guðmundsson, the brewing and shipping executives who owned Landsbanki.