From Iceland — News In Brief

News In Brief

Published March 9, 2012

News In Brief

Monster hunting!
February started out with some paranormal activity, when a farmer in northeast Iceland recorded a video of something moving in a snake-like motion across the river Jökulsá í Fljótsdal. It so happens that the lake fed by this river is Lagarfljót, and it also just so happens that this lake is the mythical home of the Worm of Lagarfljót. Sightings of this creature have been made since the fourteenth century, but this marked the first time that maybe, just maybe, someone had visual proof of its existence. The video became an internet sensation of sorts, proving especially popular in Japan. Naturally, some were suspicious, but the farmer who recorded it, Hjörtur Kjerúlf, denied having staged the recording in any way. Later study of the video revealed that what was probably moving across the river was a chunk of twisted fishing netting covered in ice. And so the Worm of Lagarfljót remains an elusive creature, for the time being.
Offensive booze gets the boot
The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland (ÁTVR) decided not to allow the sale of Motörhead shiraz, reasoning that the band’s songs promote unsafe sex, drug abuse and violence. Hjörleifur Árnason, who wanted to import the wine, was baffled by the decision, pointing out that there is a beer for sale in Iceland called “Surtur” which, while also the name of an old Norse god, also happens to be a very offensive (albeit outdated) term for a person of African descent. Later on in the month, ÁTVR made the decision not to allow the sale of the beer Black Death, this time reasoning that the phrase, “Drink in peace,” written on the label, violates what stipulations about what kind of information is allowed to be printed on a bottle of alcohol.
Supreme Court upholds insider trading sentence
Arguably the best news this month, if not the best news since the financial collapse, occurred when Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld a two-year prison sentence against former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance Baldur Guðlaugsson. Baldur had a significant amount of shares in Landsbanki before the 2008 crash, and also sat in on meetings where he was privy to knowledge not available to the general public. On September 17 and 18, he sold his shares in Landsbanki for 192 million ISK. Shortly thereafter, Landsbanki crashed. Baldur was charged with insider trading, and convicted in Reykjavík’s District Court last April. He appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld his sentence. This marks the first time in Icelandic history that someone has ever been convicted of insider trading.
Homophobic schoolteacher on paid leave
Primary school teacher Snorri Óskarsson was put on six months paid leave after his blog, which rails against homosexuality, was discovered. Although Snorri contended he was merely exercising his right to free speech, school officials pointed out that, as a number of his students likely were homosexuals, his blog effectively violated the ethical guidelines laid out for teachers to treat all their students equally. Psychologist Pétur Maack decided to take the matter a step further and press charges against Snorri, citing Article 233 of the Icelandic Penal Code, the “hate speech” section, which expressly forbids the type of speech Snorri used against homosexuals.
Financial Surveillance Authority Director Sacked
Gunnar Andersen, who had been director of the Financial Surveillance Authority (FME) since 2009, was much to his dismay, relieved of his duties last month. The decision stems from it coming to light that in 2001, when the FME asked Landsbanki for information about its holdings, Gunnar—who was an executive at Landsbanki at the time—had failed to mention two Guernsey-registered companies that, while owned by holding companies, were fully owned by Landsbanki. Gunnar left Landsbanki in 2008. The FME believed this hurt Gunnar’s credibility as an FME director, so they decided to let him go. Gunnar told DV that the FME never listened to any objections in his defence, and that his sacking had been a foregone conclusion. Unnur Gunnarsdóttir, who is the chief legal expert at FME, is temporarily filling the director position until a new replacement is found.
I drink your milkshake!
Norwegian and British prospectors discovered strong evidence that there is oil in the so-called Dragon Area, the northeast corner of Icelandic territorial waters. Rock samples showed “active seepage of Jurassic oil and a working hydrocarbon system.” This will in all likelihood make things pretty exciting when a new Icelandic Licensing Round for drilling comes up this spring. While there is no indication as to exactly how much oil there might be, Hermann Guðmundsson, the director of petrol station chain N1, told reporters that this could “make Iceland one of the richest countries in the world within the next 12 years.”
The President Is Running After All
After insinuating in his New Year’s address that he would not seek re-election, and then refusing for months to give a straight answer when questioned, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has announced that he will run again this year. This was due in part, he said, to being presented with a petition with 30.000 signatures calling for him to run. Ólafur, who has been president for sixteen years now, could wind up being president for two decades if he wins. However he has said that he may not finish his term if elected. During the time in which he appeared to be indecisive or perhaps secretive about his intentions to run or not, a poll conducted by Fréttablaðið showed the largest percentage of respondents wanted him to stay on, followed close behind by Former Minister of Justice Ragna Árnadóttir (who has since declined to run) and former chair of the Central Bank and current editor of Morgunblaðið Davíð Oddsson.
Reykjavík Energy Properties Sold Without Advertisement
Reykjavík Energy (RE) apparently sold at least two of its holdings without ever making a public advertisement that they were for sale. The City of Reykjavík, which owns 94% of RE, acted on information they received about the matter and made a formal inquiry to RE. According to data on RE’s website, the sale process of the two holdings—Enex Kína and Envent Holding—began in February 2010, with a deal signed in August 19, 2011. While RE only owned 19.53% of Enex Kína and 24.5% of Envent, the sale apparently went underway without the shares being made publicly available.

Former PM Is On Trial
Former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde is currently standing trial for negligence and mismanagement in the months leading up to Iceland’s financial collapse, despite the best efforts of his brethren in the conservative party to get the charges dropped. Geir has maintained that nobody could have predicted the crash and furthermore that there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. Day one was spent drilling Geir, who said that he was happy to finally get a chance to respond to the charges. On day two, former Chair of the Central Bank Davíð Oddsson, among others, testified. He asserted that he had warned Geir about trouble brewing in the banks, and that Geir showed a lack of confidence and trust in Davíð’s words. At the same time, he said he understood Geir not heeding his warnings, as it appeared that the banks were doing quite well financially.

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