Published April 13, 2011
Icesave: It’s like a slow waltz with the devil. By the time you read this, you may have already cast your vote; but the dance is still not over. Not by a long shot. A faint crack of light has appeared at the end of the Kaupþing tunnel. Last month the two brothers Tchenguiz— famed property moguls and former allies of Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson’s Baugur empire—were arrested under suspicion of fraud by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO). They were released shortly thereafter without charges, but tragically managed to miss their annual yacht party in Cannes. In a surge of Tchenguiz-articles this last month, the Daily Mail said of the two brothers: “With a £4bn fortune to play with, they lived the playboy lifestyle, with beautiful women on their arms, and champagne flowing,” and featured a delightful photo of Vincent Tchenguiz cuddling supermodel Caprice. Severely distressed by their arrest, the two brothers quickly initiated proceedings to obtain a court ruling against Kaupþing, which as noted in the Financial Times, “will allow them to pursue claims of more than £1bn against the Icelandic bank in the UK.” A couple of weeks after the brothers’ arrest, the Luxembourg police raided Kaupþing’s former premises in Luxembourg at the request of British and Icelandic officials. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, over 70 investigators from Iceland, the UK and Luxembourg were involved in the raid.
Landsbanki and its former owners are also under increased scrutiny. The Telegraph recently pointed out that “… the failed Icelandic bank, illegally transferred millions of pounds of British savers’ money to related party institutions in the hours before it collapsed.” And, the great majority of these funds were transferred to institutions owned or controlled by Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson and his father. One loan of £45m to Björgólfur Thor’s company, Straumur, was even made after Landsbanki had closed down, on October 6.
Can anyone in the world explain why Björgólfur Thor sits cosy in the UK—still one of the wealthiest men in the world with assets over $1bn—while the Icelandic taxpayer goes to the polls to decide whether his nation should be footing the Icesave bill? In an interview with The Telegraph, Björgólfur Thor’s spokesman said, “[he] was never a director at Landsbanki and therefore had no part in any decision about transfer of funds.”
Yeah, pull another.
Last month, The Guardian ran with an article entitled ‘How Icelandic bank’s clients filled Tory coffers’, showing that over £900,000 was handed over to Britain’s Conservative Party in recent years. “Those who donate more than £50,000 in a single year can get access to…meetings with the Tory party leader.” Kaupþing luminaries included, Vincent, Robert, and sister Lisa Tchenguiz, who, along with Lisa’s estranged husband Vivan Imerman, collectively donated close to £500.000. The Guardian also noted that prior to Kaupþing’s failure, the total value of loans to Tchenguiz companies exceeded 40% of the banks actual equity base. In light of the recent SFO investigation, the Conservative party is “seriously” reconsidering some of its donations.
In the last week of March, Baldur Héðinsson, an Icelandic intern at Planet Money (a US-based podcast run by NPR covering the global economic crisis) posted an online survey inviting individuals from all over the world vote whether he should vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the Icesave referendum. The survey ran for one week (March 24-March 31) and a resounding 75% (3,485 people) voted against Icelanders paying for Icesave. Baldur, it seems, has solved his voting dilemma.
Frosti Sigurjónsson said in an interview with The Guardian, just a few days ago: “The risk of accepting the current Icesave agreement [which involves an exposure to currency market movements and bankruptcy recoveries] is much greater than taking this matter to court, which is our civil right.”
I wonder if Björgólfur Thor will be voting ‘yes,’ or do you think he is more of a believer in civil rights?