Bjarni Benediktsson, minister of finance and chair of the Independence Party, declared yesterday that he fully supports his vice-chair, Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, whose ministry leaked confidential information about an asylum seeker in November.
Bjarni stated in an interview on Stöð 2 evening news that he backs Hanna’s decision to continue serving as minister of the interior, yet acknowledging that the case is sensitive and that Hanna is in an awkward position.
Last week Ombudsman of Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, requested information from Hanna following a story in DV stating that the minister had tried to influence the investigation of the leak and pressured Chief of Police Stefán Eiríksson into resigning.
Hanna posted her answers to the Obudsman’s enquiries on her ministry’s website on August 1. She revealed that she had met the chief of police on four occasions since the investigation was launched in February but that none of the meetings had been held to discuss the investigation in particular.
Hanna further stated that she had often spoken with Stefán on the phone since February to discuss various matters, as should be expected of people in their positions. Many of the conversations were informal, the minister said, and a record about them wasn’t kept.
The minister iterated that she had never done anything to prevent the investigation into the leak; on the contrary, her ministry had fully cooperated with the police ever since it was launched.
At the end of her statement, the minister pointed out that she had asked Stefán whether he considered it to be improper or uncomfortable that she discussed anything related with the investigation with him, or whether he thought their conversations hindered its progress. Stefán said that wasn’t the case, Hanna maintained.
When asked whether Hanna should have handled the matter differently after it first came up, Bjarni responded: “It’s hard to say whether the discussion could have been limited as to how the nature of communications between the ministry and those involved in the investigation should have been.”
Bjarni stressed that the most important thing is that Hanna’s ministry provided the police with full access to all data and information that was important to the investigation.
When asked whether Hanna’s conversations with the chief of police weren’t unnatural at best, Bjarni stated: “It’s understandable that people would think that. It’s a sensitive issue and the minister is in an awkward position.”
“I originally supported the minister in her decision not to resign because it’s a very big decision,” Bjarni went on. “One should consider the example that it sets. That is to say, in the future, the minister of judiciary affairs would have to step down every time someone would sue over how single issues are handled. I considered that to be a very bad example,” Bjarni reasoned.
In related news, editor of DV Reynir Traustason maintained in a statement he posted on Facebook on August 3 that Hanna had tried to have the journalists who covered the leak fired.