Last September, the Icelandic parliament took the conclusions of the Special Investigative Commission (SIC) under advisement and voted on whether or not four key political figures of the previous government should be charged with negligence and mismanagement: former Minister of Finance Árni M. Mathiesen, former Minister of Business Björgvin G. Sigurðsson, former Foreign Minister Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir and former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde. In the end, all escaped unscathed except for Geir, who parliament decided (by a 33-votes-to-30 majority) to put on trial for his part in the 2008 economic crash.
The vote was an historic one, and marked the first time in Icelandic history that a prime minister had ever been charged with negligence. This also marked the first time the national court would be called together since its inception in the early 20th century.
The reactions from the right and the left were immediate and decisive. Geir has consistently professed his innocence, saying that there was nothing he could have done to prevent the crash, and that he was not the only one who enjoyed the benefits of the over-inflated banks. This is a far cry from the SIC report conclusions, which portrayed Geir as woefully incompetent, unaware of anything that was happening in the Central Bank, and frankly terrified of the then Central Bank chair, current Morgunblaðið editor, and all-around conservative grand poobah Davíð Oddsson.
Support from around the world…
Geir’s defenders were also quick to jump to his aid, with many conservative figures stating that the trial is nothing more than political revenge initiated by his long-time opponents. This culminated in the formation of Málsvörn.is, a website that purports the dual purpose of collecting signatures of those who believe Geir is being unjustly punished and raising money for his defence fund. The site boasted hundreds of signatures within its first two weeks, but at least one person—author Arngrímur Vídalín—claims his name was put on the supporters list without his knowledge or consent (the petition also lists Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini as supporters).
The outspoken nature of his supporters may explain Geir’s breezy attitude about the trial, which began earlier this month. He recently told attendees of a press conference that he has received flowers at his doorstep, and added, “We will win this case”. He also said that he often bumps into the MPs who voted in favour of pressing charges, who then—possibly out of politeness—try to greet him in a friendly way, which he takes issue with. “They have demanded a two-year prison term for me. And they think they can just walk up to me and kiss and hug me like it’s no thing. ‘No, sir’, I tell those women who try”.
Yeah but is he guilty?
Not everyone is buying it, though. Left-Green MP Björn Valur Gíslason responded to the oft-repeated criticism from Geir’s supporters that the trial is baseless, and merely political revenge from political opponents.
“Has it occurred to no one that Geir is guilty of that which he is being charged?”, he wrote on his blog. “Is the [Special Investigative Commission report] forgotten? Wasn’t it one of the report’s conclusions that Haarde showed negligence on the job, and neglected to act, with disastrous consequences?”.
By Icelandic law, a government minister found guilty of negligence or mismanagement can face up to two years in prison. Whether or not this trial—which isn’t going to be drawing to a close any time soon—will end in a conviction or an acquittal for Geir, the trial does mark a new chapter in Icelandic politics: at least one elected representative is being held accountable for his actions—or lack thereof.