Former Prime Minister of Iceland Geir H. Haarde told Stöd 2 yesterday that he is a victim of political persecution after learning that he is the only minister against whom the Icelandic parliament, Althingi, is filing charges and taking to High Court (Landsdómur).
Former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde. Copyright: Icelandic Photo Agency.
The parliamentary resolution to take Haarde to High Court for negligence in office in the events leading up to the banking collapse in October 2008 was approved by the parliament with 33 votes against 30.
This is the first time in Iceland’s political history that the High Court will be summoned and charges filed against a former minister for negligence in office.
However, MPs voted against taking former Foreign Minister Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Former Finance Minister Árni M. Mathiesen and Former Minister of Business Affairs Björgvin G. Sigurdsson to court for the same reason.
The Social Democrats were split in the voting; eight Social Democrat MPs of 20 voted for charging Haarde, Fréttabladid reports.
Ólína Thorvardardóttir and Sigrídur Ingibjörg Ingadóttir of the Social Democrats wanted to file charges against all former ministers except Gísladóttir, who is the party’s former chair, but Helgi Hjörvar and Skúli Helgason only against Haarde.
Haarde finds the parliament’s conclusion extremely disappointing. “These charges and this entire case on behalf of the majority in the parliamentary committee [which proposed it], is built on sand.”
“If the High Court comes to the conclusion that I am innocent, then I believe that those who approved this charge have some serious thinking to do and have to reevaluate their situation,” the former PM added.
He stated this matter is obviously political. “The Social Democrats obviously take care of their people, something that is clearly seen in parliament, MPs sidled between people during the voting to shelter certain individuals.”
“I believe that the way this matter was concluded in parliament absolutely reveals the charge’s political nature and there is little pride involved for those who organized it,” Haarde concluded.
Prime Minister and chairwoman of the Social Democrats Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir dismisses all claims that political lines were drawn in the voting. When asked whether Haarde is being politically attacked, she replied that some people feel that way.
“I have always criticized the High Court because it might provide a platform for such conduct,” Sigurdardóttir said. “However, in our party each MP made a decision for him or herself. The conclusion was not consistent with what I had suggested.”
Minister of Finance and chair of the Left-Greens Steingrímur J. Sigfússon said the members of his party had voted self-consistently. However, he does not want to comment on what lies behind the decision of individual MPs.
“I just hope that each of the MPs […] are comfortable with how they voted. It is not enjoyable to see a man as distinguished as Geir being put in this position,” Sigfússon said. He voted for taking Haarde to High Court.
Helgason, who only voted for charging Haarde but not the other former ministers, explained he voted this way because Haarde had information, the position and the power to react to the tumultuous situation that was created in Iceland not only in his time as the government’s leader, but also when he served as finance minister in 1998.
Thorvardardóttir, who voted for taking all former ministers to court except Gísladóttir, said she is surprised by Haarde’s criticism. “Geir speaks of me as a political mountebank but a wounded man says a lot of things and I’m not going to debate him on this issue.”
“He once said that the problem shouldn’t be personified and I hope that he doesn’t fall into that trap himself at this point,” Thorvardardóttir added.
Thór Saari, MP for the Movement, who voted for taking all former MPs to High Court, is disappointed with the conclusion of yesterday’s voting.
“The only thing decided […] was that the collapse won’t be settled politically. There is a political upper class here that protected itself with a wall of shields. The wall held in three cases out of four,” Saari said, calling for a new parliamentary election.
Sigmundur Davíd Gunnlaugsson, chair of the Progressive Party, who voted against taking all former ministers to High Court although his party was split on the matter, is also dissatisfied with the results of the voting but for other reasons.
“Judging by the arguments that were presented in this case I thought it was reasonable to file charges against everyone or no one. My evaluation was that it wasn’t right to file charges because the case wouldn’t suffice to prove people’s guilt before the High Court,” Gunnlaugsson said.
“According to my evaluation, if the government of Geir H. Haarde was in violation of the law, the current government has done so as well,” Gunnlaugsson added.
The MP said the worst part of the voting is that Haarde was tactically attacked by the Social Democrats. “Geir is sacrificed because it suits the Social Democrats that attention is diverted towards the High Court in the coming weeks and months.”
Chairman of the Independence Party Bjarni Benediktsson, Haarde’s successor, agrees. “This is a political conclusion. I find it poor in all respects and I don’t see how people can see it as anything other than a political attack launched against one man when the voting was conducted in this manner.”
Click here to read more about the voting.