As we watch the salty hell circus that is the Trump administration Russian collusion investigations unfold from our tiny rock in the North Atlantic, we are at once horrified and relieved—horrified, because of the way the administration has been behaving, and relieved, because at least, we tell ourselves, this madness isn’t happening here.
All that changed with a single opinion piece published by Bloomberg last month, “Hey, Mueller, You Should Check Out Iceland.” In this article, Timothy L. O’Brien makes a compelling case for why Special Counsel Robert Mueller should look into Iceland’s shady financial past for clues that could tie the Trump administration to Russian oligarchs.
The main thrust of the article concerns property developer Bayrock Group and Felix Sater, “a Bayrock principal who was a career criminal with American and Russian mob ties and who has remained in the Trump orbit,” O’Brien writes, and who “helped reel in funds of murky origin that Bayrock and Trump used for projects such as the Trump Soho hotel in Manhattan.” As O’Brien also points out, one of Bayrock’s largest financial backers was the now-defunct Icelandic investment bank FL Group.
Every Icelander knows the major points of the story of FL Group. They owned enormous stakes in one of Iceland’s three major banks, and the investment company itself was run disgraced tycoon Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson. They siphoned in all kinds of money from all Iceland’s banks to invest in all kinds of ventures, including Bayrock.
In fairness, it bears emphasising that no one has found any hard connections between Russian oligarchs and FL Group. But O’Brien recounts that when he spoke with renowned corruption hunter Eva Joly, she noted that vast sums of money were “washing in and out” of Icelandic banks before the 2008 crash which have largely gone unaccounted for.
“There was a huge amount of money that came into these banks that wasn’t entirely explained by central bank lending,” O’Brien recounts her saying. “Only Mafia-like groups fill a gap like that.”
O’Brien cites other whispers, hints, and insinuations from various other sources, but nothing constituting hard evidence. As it’s newsworthy nonetheless, the Icelandic media has picked up on this, and it’s very likely making people nervous; most definitely, the kind of people who were hoping that the post-crash investigations were done and over with, with all their skeletons resolutely buried in the back of the closet.
All this may end up being a foregone conclusion anyway. As O’Brien himself admits, hard evidence when it comes to Russian oligarch connections to Iceland are very hard to come by. They’ll likely be even harder to come by some ten years after the fact. His column nonetheless strikes a nerve with us, and is a sober reminder that in this connected world, there are no islands.