From Iceland — Wrong To Put Geir On Trial

Wrong To Put Geir On Trial

Published October 2, 2012

The trial of former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde reflected a blurred line between political and criminal responsibility, says a memorandum from the EU’s center-right European People’s Party.
Last April, Geir stood accused of negligence and mismanagement leading to the bank collapse of 2008, in violation of Article 17 of Iceland’s constitution. Numerous witnesses came forward in the course of the trial, from former Central Bank chairman Davíð Oddsson to former and current members of government, as well as former high-rollers in Iceland’s banking community. Ultimately, Geir was found guilty of one charge of negligence, but was not sentenced.
A new memorandum (.pdf file), written for the committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, comes from Pieter Omtzigt, an EMP for the center-right European People’s Party. The memo states that the trial is “arguably one of those cases from which lessons can be drawn for keeping political and criminal responsibility separate.”
Pieter detailed his visit to Iceland and his interviews with both the right and the left, eventually arriving that the conclusion:

In my view, the case of former Prime Minister Geir Haarde is a case in point demonstrating that holding a political leader criminally responsible for his political acts (and even omissions) poisons the political climate without advancing the cause of justice. … As an economist, I am not so sure that the policies pursued by the Government of Prime Minister Geir Haarde were really so bad. … The attempt to criminalise the former Prime Ministers’ policies has clearly backfired against the political class as a whole and in particular against those who were elected on the strength of their promise to “moralise” politics, which had been perceived as being too closely linked to big business. The party-political motivation of singling out the former Prime Minister for criminal prosecution is thinly veiled and has left a bad aftertaste, even among leading supporters of the principle of criminal responsibility for such policy decisions as the handling of the banking crisis in Iceland.

Omtzigt also warned of a domino effect of sorts across Europe because of the trial, saying in part:
“I would be rather worried that if we were to accept the precedent of the criminal prosecution and conviction of Mr. Geir Haarde, we would have to expect a wave of prosecutions against many politicians in many countries – if and when the taxpayers in the “Northern” countries of the Euro zone will be made to foot the bill for the staggering rescue packages in favour of “Southern” countries, and/or the people in the “Southern” countries realise how deep the trouble really is that they are in because of the irresponsible fiscal policies pursued for many years by their own Governments. I do not argue that our Governments should not be held to account for the consequences of these policies. But individual politicians should only be held criminally responsible if their action fell outside the scope of normal political decision-making. The latter must be judged exclusively in the “courts” of democratic elections.”

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