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An interview with Eva Joly

Two days ago, Eva Joly, the Norwegian-French magistrate hired to advise the Icelandic government on the current [colossal] investigation into the bank collapse, threatened to pull out of the investigation unless two very clear conditions were met. One, that the State Prosecutor step down, as he is unfit on familial grounds [his son is an executive in one of the holding companies affiliated with the banks]. Two, that the Office of the Special Investigator into the bank collapse be substantially strengthened and that the number of prosecutors be increased from one to three. Yesterday the Icelandic nation held its breath while it waited for the government’s response to those stipulations. Yesterday evening it was announced that there was agreement in parliament that the government would do everything in its power to ensure that Mme Joly gets the facilities she needs to continue her work. As the nation let out a collective sigh of relief, Eva Joly kindly agreed to sit down with us for a chat.

IWR: Two days ago you set two very clear conditions for continuing your work here in Iceland. Yesterday the government announced that they would fully cooperate with you. Are you satisfied that your demands have been met?

eva_jolyEJ: Yes I am. There was substantial progress made yesterday and I definitely feel as though my request was heard and that the government understood the gravity of the situation. The State Prosecutor [Valtýr Sigurðsson] offered to withdraw from this specific case and for another prosecutor to be put in his place for this particular matter, but I feel that this is not satisfactory. He is no doubt very good at what he does but unfortunately he is unfit to act as State Prosecutor due to his family connections. Setting an ad hoc prosecutor for this case only would not work because we need access to his entire office, not only individual people within that office. This is the most important legal case ever for Iceland and probably will be for years to come, and it is absolutly vital that it is done right. And I am happy to say that the Icelandic authorities have given me a guarantee today that this matter will be settled.

Concerning my second condition, there was agreement among the government today to increase funding for the special prosecutor’s office, which is absolutely essential. This investigation simply cannot be carried out by one prosecutor. We need at least three. If we attempted to carry it out with one prosecutor it would take far too long and also there is a limit to what one human being can do, what one human brain can hold. I know this from my own experience in working on a similar case [the Elf affair, which propelled Joly into the international spotlight].

You must understand that this investigation is absolutely huge. It incorporates many different chapters. We need teams to perform the work, and we need a leader for each team that is autonomous in carrying out the investigation and who can prosecute, although one prosecutor can oversee the investigation as a whole. So increased funding will allow us to recruit more staff and to begin to strengthen the office, which has been having all sorts of problems – problems with premises, with manpower, and so on. We need to recruit all kinds of people – accountants, lawyers, secretaries and people to run the office. And it is absolutely essential for us to have three prosecutors so we can start taking cases to court.

IWR: Your involvement in this investigation really gives many people here in Iceland a feeling of hope and security, and they cannot bear the thought of you resigning. Do you think this is fair to you?

EJ: Well, I think it would be unforgivable for me to give people a sense of security if I didn’t deliver on the confidence they have in me. Which is why I am setting these conditions. I may seem very harsh, but there must be something solid behind my presence here. I must not be used to give people a false sense of security. And I can’t give people security unless certain conditions are met.

IWR: What exactly does your work here in Iceland consist of?

EJ: I’m here every two weeks, for two days at a time – although it’s four days out of my work week, as there are two full days required for travel. I work closely on the investigation with the team here in Iceland, who are all very skilled and good people. These visits will now be less regular, however, until the changes I have requested have been made and the office has resolved some of its organizational issues and is up and running.

IWR: In the interview you gave to Kastljós two days ago you expressed your view that this investigation is the most important investigation ever in Europe. You also said that it is five times more important than your investigation into the Elf affair, which was a groundbreaking investigation at the time. On what do you base that assessment?

EJ: I base it on the number of cases that have already been established by the Financial Supervisory Authority, and what I already know about the investigation. I see the makings of a huge investigation. It is very significant, it extends across borders, but unfortunately I cannot be more specific, otherwise I, too, would become unfit to carry out the investigation.

IWR: A major concern among the Icelandic public has been that so much time has passed since the bank collapse that the trail may have been lost – that evidence may have been destroyed, documents shredded, and so on. What are your views?

EJ: It is true that much time has passed, but the trail has not necessarily been lost. Economic crimes are very specific and clues exist about where the money has gone, even a long time after the fact.

IWR: When the investigation was getting underway it seemed that bank secrecy laws were very stringent here in Iceland and might be hindering the investigation. Is that still the case?

EJ: Bank secrecy laws are not an issue, because they cannot be opposed to a criminal investigation.

IWR: How long do you envision that this investigation will take?

EJ: Years. I’m guessing at perhaps a five-year time frame. We also want to deviate from the norm a little in that we want to emphasize communication with the general public, to keep the public informed. Prosecutors generally don’t like to communicate too much; however, this is an exceptional case, and it calls for exceptional measures.

IWR: You are very busy. What made you agree to take on this investigation?

EJ: I think that this situation is so terrible for Iceland and I found it revolting that people were losing their pensions and the public was being made to pay for years of immoral conduct by a handful of people. I thought that if my expertise in this field could be of some help, then I was willing to find the time. I was also touched by the amazing response of the Icelandic people, how they demonstrated their wish to have me come on board to help. [After Eva Joly’s appearance on the talk show Silfur Egils last winter there was a flood of petitions to the government to hire her as an adviser. Blogs buzzed, a Facebook group was immediately established that some 2,500 people joined in a 24-hour period, and MPs were inundated with emails.] I also feel very close to the culture here, because of my [Norwegian] origins, and so I felt a sense of kinship. I also saw this as an opportunity to maintain my investigative skills by doing practical work again, since I have not been involved in an investigation since 2002. Finally I believe that what I will see here will enhance my perspective as a member of the European Parliament, so that I can help set proper laws. [Eva Joly was elected to the European Parliament last Sunday.]

IWR: In an interview on Silfur Egils last winter you mentioned that there was added pressure internationally on secrecy to be lifted in tax havens. Have you seen any progress on that?

EJ: Tax havens and bank secrecy were big issues at a recent meeting of the G20 states and when I was running for the European Parliament I promised that I would look into and work on the issue of tax havens. There is international pressure now on tax havens to lift their secrecy laws, and this particular investigation in Iceland is very symbolic in that regard.

IWR: In all the interviews I’ve seen with you on this subject, you have emphasized the necessity of carrying out this investigation so that the Icelandic nation can come to terms with what happened, and move on. Why do you feel the investigation is so important in that regard?

EJ: I am simply drawing on what I have seen happen in other countries that have experienced similar calamities. What happened here is a catastrophe, and in order for the nation to be able to overcome the trauma it is vital to assign responsibility. You have to remember that the judicial system is simply a way of treating emotion in a legal way. It was built up around this need in humans to feel satisfied that responsibility has been assigned and those culpable have been brought to justice. In ancient times we had vendettas, now we have the law.

It is vital for the nation to have this sort of satisfaction, because if this need is not satisfied a deep rift will be created in society and there is a danger of a breakdown in the social contract. People will begin to have thoughts like, ‘Why should I have to pay taxes when others have not had to pay?’ That sort of dissolution in society is very dangerous.

IWR: There has been much discussion in Iceland about freezing the assets of those who have been instrumental in creating this mess. Is that a viable option?

EJ: Yes, it is viable to freeze assets, but first it must be established what the offenses were, who benefited from them, and so on. After that, assets can begin to be confiscated.

IWR: Finally a somewhat unrelated question: as a newly-elected member of the European Parliament, are you of the opinion that Iceland should apply for membership to the European Union?

EJ: That is a very important question. I think it is very dangerous to attempt to operate a single currency in a country with 300,000 inhabitants. So it is quite clear to me that having the euro would be of huge benefit and protection for you. But on the other hand, you have to consider the cost, for your sovereignty and your democracy. I really can’t give any advice on that – it is out of my jurisdiction. But I do believe in Europe being an instrument of peace and civilization. If had not been for the EU we would have had another war after World War II. The EU managed to create peace between Germany, England, France, Italy, Spain, to integrate those cultures.

It would not be a problem for Iceland to become a member of the EU as you have already integrated the vast majority of the regulations and directives [being a member of the European Economic Area]. Iceland has a longstanding democratic culture and as a member of the EU you would reinforce the Nordic part of Europe and its understanding of democracy. I think it would be good for Europe to have you.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Bromley86 June 12, 2009, 12:47 pm

    Bugger me! That was unexpected, even on this blog 🙂 .

  • Sigga June 12, 2009, 1:17 pm

    Brilliant Alda.

  • Jessie June 12, 2009, 3:49 pm

    Thank you Alda!

  • Regina Hardardottir June 12, 2009, 7:53 pm

    Thanks Alda,

    You and Eva are brilliant together, keep up the good work! Keep those grassroots sprouting,, growing and, why not, weeding?

  • Joerg June 12, 2009, 8:35 pm

    Great interview! Thanks!

  • Ljósmynd DE June 12, 2009, 9:05 pm

    Really great interview and with Eva Joly involved, Iceland should be on the right track. Hope, the government is definitely going to meet her requirements.

  • George June 12, 2009, 9:22 pm

    “If had not been for the EU we would have had another war after World War II”…..hmmmm, not sure where exactly she gets this conjecture. Aside from the Balkan conflict – which was to a large degree solved with the help of NATO, not the EU – I can’t think of a time where another WW would have started. The EU is fine as far as it goes but does not have the magic powers Madame Joly ascribes to it

  • Peter Reeves June 12, 2009, 9:44 pm

    Some things should be dealt with immediately to provide extra funding!
    Like Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson selling £7m of shares owned by Baugur in Moss Bros to Sir Philip Green, pocketing the proceeds, and then putting them down as the deposit in his desperation to buy 365 Media.
    (most people will remember he threatened to sue anyone asking.)
    He gets paid by the banks and is still Chairman of Iceland Foods.
    Its a disgrace, and a muppet & lawyer could sort this in 2 weeks.
    Pick off some easy targets first, whilst delving into difficult ones!

  • Dora June 13, 2009, 12:14 am

    Thank you for this interview – so much hope is tied to Eva Joly and her clear forthrightness is very refreshing.

  • Lee June 13, 2009, 2:53 am

    That’s an interview and a half! Her arguments are so clear and persuasive that I can see why Icelanders think she must remain involved. For me, the “wow” moment was that this will be the most important investigation ever in Europe, extending across countries. However, I still suspect it would have been preferable to have frozen certain assets (eg place restrictions upon their sale/transfer) long before establishing the details of the offences; those assets could then have been unfrozen later if there was insufficient evidence, etc; otherwise, there will inevitably be raided fridges with little left to freeze.

  • Elín June 14, 2009, 12:43 pm

    Stunning interview! How great that Mme Joly found the time to sit down with you. And how great it is that you pursue these interviews and share them with us. Thanks much.

  • Gwrhyr June 14, 2009, 1:07 pm

    This is a wonderful interview, and really solidifies IWR’s status a both an entertaining blog and journalistic masterpeice. Bravo!

  • Joerg June 14, 2009, 1:09 pm

    The link to YouTube you gave above for the Kastljós interview points only to the first part of the interview. You can find all 3 parts by searching for “Eva Joly Investigating Economy Terrorists” on YouTube.
    I thought I’d post this as a comment since more people might be interested to see the full interview.

  • idunn June 15, 2009, 10:55 pm

    Thank you for an important and interesting interview.

    I found it strange that Eva Joly saw, “the makings of a huge investigation.” And that, “this is an exceptional case, and it calls for exceptional measures.” Yet would have elected to spend only a fraction of her time in Iceland and the rest, presumably, in the European Parliament. Nevertheless, she seems able, gifted and honest, and the citizens of Iceland fortunate to have her services. I was particularly impressed that she threatened to resign unless the government of Iceland willing to take such an investigation seriously. Surely means she is serious as well.

    Not as much sure about retribution. Some people surely deserve it, and her theorem on preserving the ‘social contract’ within society probably valid. Although no mention that another aspect of this, beyond any particular punishment, is in the importance of reordering society and government so such things do not happen again.

  • Pierre October 10, 2009, 8:28 am

    If you wonder why U.K. is using using anti-terrorism legislation to humble Iceland the answer is quite simple:

    The U.K. (and NATO) are engaged into a war to take over Artic (where Iceland has a legitimate share):


  • phil-fox October 17, 2009, 11:17 pm

    If you have time study as Argentina was ripp off , exactely the same processus is on the way for Iceland . today a little part of the Blue lagon , tomorrow the all energy business , the fishing rights , public building e.t.c
    It ‘s no point at all that a State cover a private debt ,except if this is a part of the game to push Iceland to ruins and sale all free asset . This investigation will mist the point .This failure was manage and controlled mainly by the British , the UK market was the beat , easy after to struggle the icelandic business men by any way , some English banker bought for peanuts the asset of icesave …. Landsbaki …and you will pay the difference , same process in Argentina in 2001 .
    You are under attack and your Politics dream about negotiations and wedding with Europe. it’s time to rise an Army to save the rest of freedom . If you dont move better , you are criminal in regard of the futur kids and responsable of 50 to 100 000 people who leave the island at short time and for the 200 000 frozen …..good luck .

    Please could you rewrite my poor english , if you like

  • Michael Lewis December 17, 2009, 1:02 pm

    “I think it is very dangerous to attempt to operate a single currency in a country with 300,000 inhabitants.”
    Laughable rubbish. Talk about having an agenda.

    She talks utter garbage about the Euro. Devaluing the Krona ultimately allow Iceland to take a sharp shock, but start recovery.

    Sounds like another EU bureaucrat, no wonder she said the investigation would take years and require the state to employ more people.

    “If had not been for the EU we would have had another war after World War II.” With the track record of France, I think it would have been a short war in continetal Europe.

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