The first thing that comes to mind about 2009, as a sort of milestone event for the year, is the hiring of Davíð Oddsson as editor for Morgunblaðið. It can reasonably be likened to a bankster being appointed to the Supreme Court to rule on his own case. Fittingly, the historical analyses that have been appearing in Morgunblaðið over the past few months seem to be put forth by a man that has a great interest in how history is written, and that it will be written a certain way— entirely independent on how close to reality those writings are.
Aside from that, Davíð has never worked a real job in the media, and thus has neither the knowledge nor the experience to lead any part of it. It is unfair to the journalists of Morgunblaðið to work under a man that knows the answers to most of their questions, but neither can nor will answer them. As a former employee of Morgunblaðið I find it very sad to witness how the newspaper has evolved over the past few months, and the circumstances its able professionals are forced to work in. Alas, private companies can hire whomever they want to hire.
Another great point of interest is the information we obtained on how insurance company Sjóvá was handled. Its former owners seem to have treated the company like a piggy bank; one they eventually found new use for as a garbage bin once it was all emptied out. The results were that the state had to supply Sjóvá with 16 billion ISK. That is an incredibly high amount when you consider the fact that their claims reserve fund once amounted to around 22–23 billion ISK. They nearly managed to empty it. Investor group Milestone, who owned Sjóvá for two years, managed to increase the company’s debt by 40 billion ISK in that time. During these two years, the shameless owners didn’t hesitate to reimburse themselves 19 billion ISK in dividends. The investigation in Sjóvá’s affairs and the Special Prosecutor’s raid on their premises last summer are thus clearly one of the year’s main events.
Lastly, I would like to mention the bankruptcy of DeCODE Genetics in November as a very memorable event, especially in a historical context. When DeCODE stock went up for bids on the so-called Grey Market around a decade ago, it marked the start of the Icelandic public’s first stock trading-gold digging adventure. Respected people appeared in the media telling people that not buying DeCODE stock would be a grave mistake. Likely, no Icelandic government in history has gone as far for any company as the one that ensured DeCODE exclusive permits to a database made up of the nation’s collective medical histories—adding to that a $ 200 million state guarantee. Even though both the database and the state guarantee eventually fell through, the state’s promise of both ensured DeCODE’s then VP, the young business-hero Hannes Smárason, was able to register the company to the US NASDAQ-market. DeCODE is to this day the only Icelandic company that has been listed there. As trading commenced, their stock was valued at $ 30, but quickly plummeted to next to nothing. For the past few seasons, they were valued well under a dollar.
The author is a former journalist of Morgunblaðið. He is currently employed at Viðskiptablaðið.
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