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Haarde '73 to face trial in Iceland

By Sara Dejene
On January 30, 2012

Former Prime Minister of Iceland and University alum Geir Haarde '73 awaits his March 5 trial as he faces criminal charges for neglecting to protect Iceland from the 2008 financial crisis.

The indictment, filed by Iceland's Parliament, Alþingi, claims that Haarde showed "serious malfeasance of his duties as prime minister in the face of major danger looming over Icelandic financial institutions and the state treasury, a danger that he knew of or should have known of," according to a Sept. 4, 2011 New York Times article.

Haarde, who graduated from Brandeis with a degree in Economics, is the first world leader to face criminal charges relating to the global financial crisis.

Haarde was elected prime minister of Iceland in 2006, served during the financial crisis which struck Iceland in 2008 and ultimately resigned from his position in 2009. According to a Jan 18. Washington Post article, the meltdown of Iceland's banks and currency caused Icelndic citizens to protest. Haarde claimed that he did nothing wrong during his term in office or that he neglected his obligations as prime minister.

"Let me just say that the whole trial is ludicrous," wrote Haarde in an email to the Justice. "It is a highly political affair where political opponents are trying to use the court room to settle political differences. Criminalizing politics in this way makes no sense and has no place in a modern democracy."

Haarde wrote in his email to the Justice that if his case goes to trial, he expects it to end sometime in April and that he feels "very confident" that he will not be found guilty.

According to Haarde, the Parliament could withdraw the charges before the trial begins. He originally faced six charges, but in October, two of them were dropped, according to an Oct. 6 article from IceNews. The judges of Iceland's Landsdomur High Court decided not to charge Haarde with "gross neglect of duty" while the banks were facing danger of failing because the wording of the charge was too vague to try Haarde. The other charge, failure to "conduct an in-depth analysis of the risks posed to financial institutions," was dropped because they deemed it not an illegal crime.

According to the IceNews article, the remaining charges include not taking action to reduce the "size of the bloated banks" and failing to protect Landsbank's Icesave accounts by not dividing them among "subsidiary companies" in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Haarde's crime is that he did nothing to prevent the damage Iceland's economy suffered, according to Atili Gislason in the New York Times article. Gislason, a member of Parliament, led the commission that prepared the case against Haarde.

On Jan. 20, the Parliament voted 31-29 against dismissing a resolution on whether to drop the charges against Haarde, according to a Jan. 23 article from the Iceland Review. The Parliament's Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs Committee will review and discuss the rejected proposal.

Not all believe that Haarde should be held criminally responsible. Expert on Iceland at the London School of Economics Jon Danielsson in the New York Times article called Haarde's trial a "political prosecution" and a "major mistake." According to the same article, several believe that David Oddsson, who served as prime minister from 1991 to 2004, should be held responsible. Oddsson, who "oversaw the privatization of Iceland's banks," was identified by Time Magazine as one of the 25 people responsible for the international economic crisis, according to the Washington Post article.

In addition, Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson recently announced his opposition to Haarde's charges, which he had previously supported. That decision upset fellow members of the Left-Green Movement, including one who suggested Jónasson should resign since "he, as minister of judicial affairs, finds it all right to stop a court case which has already opened," according to a Jan. 19 Iceland Review article.


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