Jón Ólafsson, professor of philosophy at the University of Iceland, says that the interference of former Interior Minister Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir of a police investigation into her ministry exemplify more serious corruption in Icelandic politics than has ever been evident before.
Last week, Alþingi’s ombudsman published the conclusions of his investigation into the former minister’s conduct, while in office. The report reveals and officially verifies what had already become generally known: that the minister repeatedly interfered with the investigation, through direct contact with former Police Chief Stefán Eiríksson. Stefán Eiríksson left his office following this. The minister’s assistant, Gísli Freyr Valdórsson confessed being responsible for the leak under investigation, which was meant to slander a Nigerian asylum seeker. Shortly after, under great pressure to do so, the minister resigned. At the outset of the investigation, she counterfactually denied that any evidence hinted at the document even originating in the ministry, let alone having leaked from the ministry.
Interviewed by DV on Tuesday, Professor Jón Ólafsson made the following remarks: “The problem now is that the ombudsman’s report seems to verify that the minister of the interior knowingly abused her power. That is somewhat more serious than when people make a mistake, take the wrong course, lack experience of judgement to assess their circumstances, doesn’t seek advice among their coworkers or experienced staff members and so on.
The Interior Minister’s interference in this case seems to have been such that she considered herself to be in a position to put pressure on officials, affect the process of a case with threats and allusions —in short, it indicates much more serious corruption in our politics than anything revealed as thoroughly until now.”
The professor said that ethical guidelines are not enough to combat such breaches: “In such situations, more severe measures need to be taken than setting ethical guidelines. The big question, once this case has been settled, is whether the unusual thing about it is its disclosure. Is Hanna Birna a typical Icelandic minister —or is she exceptional?”
Jón Ólafsson chaired the post-crash, i.e. 2009–2013, government’s committee on ethics.