Icelandic authorities to get leaked HSBC data

by alda on February 15, 2015

Recently there has been much discussion in Icelandic society as to whether or not authorities should purchase a list of people who have money in foreign tax havens. The list is similar to the one that German authorities (and others) have already bought (if not the same), which led to them recovering millions of euros in lost tax revenues.

eva_jolyThe government has been humming and hawing over the matter, finding all sorts of things wrong with ponying up the funds for the list. At the same time public pressure has been growing, and they have been accused more and more of trying to spare their friends and cronies from being outed as tax evaders.

There is still another list, which a hacker managed to get a hold of, which revealed that the bank HSBC has helped rich and powerful clients evade taxes. This news broke a week or so ago – you may have heard of it, as there were many well-known individuals on the list.

Here in Iceland, we learned that there were six entities linked to Iceland on the HSBC list. Yesterday, RÚV had an interview with Eva Joly, renowned corruption hunter, European Parliament MP and friend of Iceland, who acted as an advisor to the Special Prosecutor immediately after the economic meltdown. In the interview, which was about the recent conviction of four Icelandic bankers, she informed RÚV that she had been in touch with the man who leaked the HSBC list and asked him if he would be willing to help the Icelandic nation by handing over information about the Icelanders, free of charge. He agreed, and the Director of Tax Investigations has said that she will be in touch with him.

And now we are all waiting with bated breath with news of who the folks who are on that list.

I must say that I am fascinated by the overarching picture of what is happening with respect to these matters – the transfer of wealth from the poor and middle-class to the wealthy, who stash it away in tax havens, so that the costs of maintaining a society is increasingly placed on the shoulders of the middle class. And now, the hackers, who are the White Knights of our time, working to expose this evil force and bring it to the light. Here is hoping for more and more justice and equality, even if we have to take two steps forward – one step back.

Here is a link to an interview I did with Eva Joly a few years ago, when the investigation into the Icelandic bank collapse was beginning.

Dear everyone!

With 2015 upon us, I have been taking stock of various things, including myself and my [changing] interests, and how those are reflected in my online and social media activities.

As many of you will know, this blog started out as a general forum for my personal expressions [and occasional rants] and morphed into kind of an angry tirade against the ruling [and then ex-ruling] political powers in Iceland and their policies – mostly those that had led to this country’s economic meltdown.

When I stopped blogging regularly in 2010 I kept on updating my IWR Facebook page, and tried to keep people posted on some of the major news developments in Iceland. However, I find that I have quite exhausted the well of my indignation against the Icelandic political shenanigans. While I do keep up, and do my part by protesting and taking a stand against injustice and political stupidity [of which sadly there is a glut of in Iceland at the moment] I have decided to steer away from writing about it. This is partly in order to preserve my own sanity, and partly because other outlets are doing a fine job of writing about Icelandic news, in English.

That being said, I can’t resist keeping if not my hand, then at least my pinkie, in the discussion. To that end I’m devoting a section of a monthly newsletter I’m now launching to at least an overview of the main things that happened in this country during the previous month – mostly in the form of curated links.

Apart from that the newsletter will focus on things like my writing, my current obsessions interests, fun and intriguing links I’ve found around the internet over the past month or so, and more.

I would love to have you on board. You can check out my first newsletter here, and if you like what you see, sign up for monthly updates here.

I should mention that these newsletter updates are different from the blog updates that some readers have signed up to receive.

As for this site, I will no doubt continue my infrequent postings here, but I expect they will be of a more general – rather than political – nature, focusing on life in Iceland and the subject matters of my various Iceland-related books.

Bye for now, and I look forward to sending you my new newsletter [which I’m pretty darn pleased with, if I do say so myself]!

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2014: My Year in Review

by alda on December 31, 2014

NYE2

Dear everyone: it’s the end of the year and so time for a quick look back. This blog, as you likely know, has traditionally been devoted to Icelandic politics and society … and quite frankly I can’t really bring myself to review the past year with that particular focus. However, I have done a quick review of my year over on my other blog, for those of you who are interested. Excerpt:

NIGHTMARE OF THE YEAR

Anything to do with Icelandic politics. It has been one blow after another after another to those of us who believe in honesty and integrity and keeping promises and sticking up for those who need it most. The government has worked diligently to erode the infrastructure of Icelandic society and appears to be succeeding spectacularly. At the close of the year, Icelandic doctors are still on strike in protest of their working conditions and wages, while the Progressive Party (the one in power) has no problem creating new ministerial positions for their own people, and appointed a new Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources on the last day of the year. Judging by what we have seen of her so far, she will be doing Icelandic nature no favours. Like someone remarked on Facebook: “When will we wake up from this nightmare?” Alas, I fear that won’t happen for another two-and-a-half years.

Read more here.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful New Year’s Eve, and all the very best for 2015!

Payday!

by alda on November 10, 2014

As I have written about in this space before, the current government was elected pretty much on one promise: that they would relieve the debt burden of households whose mortgages had skyrocketed as a result of the economic meltdown.

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From the demonstration on Austurvöllur last week. Photo mbl.is / Júlíus Sigurjónsson

They have been dragging their feet with this debt write-off [while wasting no time with removing taxes on the rich], and it is looking a whole lot more puny than originally promised. The government’s plan was to tax the hedge funds that have Icelandic krónur locked in the country as a result of capital controls; however, a few months after the election came the announcement that – sorry! – that would not be possible. Instead, the amount promised for the entire write-off package was about a third of the original plan, AND Icelandic taxpayers would have to foot the bill. *shrug c’est la vie* [or something].

WELL, as it happens, it has been announced that today is the day when the scope of the debt relief will be announced, including how much each individual gets. IT’S PAYDAY, FOLKS!

It’s an odd thing that this announcement is being made on the very same day that the second in a series of protests is set to take place on Austurvöllur square. On Monday last week, somewhere between 4,500 and 6,000 people turned out to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the government’s actions, which are both varied and extensive.

The debt announcement will be made at 1.30 pm. The demonstration is set for 5 pm. It will be interesting to see whether the former has any impact on the latter – for better or for worse.

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The list goes on

by alda on November 3, 2014

In a post I wrote last week I alluded to the growing anger in Icelandic society over the actions or non-actions of our current government. I also wondered whether the subservient mentality left over from our colonial days was causing Icelanders to simply take all the insults and injuries handed to them and shuffle on, serf-like, pretending nothing had happened.

trustWell, I am happy to say that in the interim there has been a rally for protests, and a demonstration will be held at 5 pm this afternoon in Austurvöllur square, in front of the parliament buildings. As I write this, 6,000 people have joined the event on Facebook, which is more than I recall any of the other demonstrations getting prior to the event.

 

In last week’s post I made a list of some of the reasons for this widespread public dissatisfaction, which I had to abandon halfway because the post had gone on for too long. I said I would add to it, so here, without further ado, is a continuation:

11.

In its current budget proposal, the government claims it wants to “simplify” the VAT system. It proposes to do this by lowering the higher of two VAT brackets to 24% from 25.5% previously and to raise the lower tax bracket from 7% to 12%. That lower tax bracket covers essentials like food. In other words, the tax on many non-essentials goes down, while the tax on essentials goes up. At the same time the government proposes  to do away with tariffs on higher-priced goods such as flat-screen TVs, which will decrease in price by 25%. Using some weird accounting logic that nobody understands, our rulers are adamant that this will increase the spending power of regular households.

12.

As our fearless leaders raise VAT on food, they abolish a tax on sugar that the previous administration had implemented. Ergo: healthy foods like fruits and vegetables go up, unhealthy foods like soft drinks and candy go down.

13.

Iceland is losing doctors at a rate of 66 per year. As this is written, doctors are on their first strike ever in the history of this country. The National Hospital and health care system are being consistently hollowed out from the inside. In the midst of this calamity it is announced that a private health care facility is on the drawing board in Kópavogur. Indeed, the trend has been all in this direction: systematically weaken or destroy public services, and then ride in on a white horse to the rescue with privatized “solutions”.

14.

When our fearless leaders presented their new budget proposal, their calculations revealed that, in their view, a meal does not need to cost more than ISK 248. That does not even buy a cup of coffee in a downtown coffee shop. If we were made to subsist on ISK 744 per day [three meals daily] we would all be severely malnourished. But that does not seem to concern the leaders of this land, most of whom who have no idea what it is like to have to pinch and save. Their disregard for the working people of this country is astonishing, to say nothing of the elderly or disabled. “Let them eat cake,” etc.

15.

About a week ago the government announced that it planned to scrap education departments for mature students throughout Iceland. In other words, adults over 25 who did not finish high school and want to do so can’t, unless they are prepared to pony up hefty fees for private education [last time I checked people who did not finish high school were not exactly rolling in dosh]. Again, we see the trend towards debilitated public services and privatized “solutions”.

16.

Then there is the small matter of the leak. Several months ago, it came to light that the Ministry of Justice had leaked personal information about an asylum seeker to the media, evidently in order to justify their own decision to deport him. The story broke on the media outlet DV, which refused to let the matter drop, even though the ministry did everything to try and dismiss the matter as trivial hearsay. The minister and her assistants were later caught lying to the media, becoming ever-more enmeshed in their own web of deceit. Eventually a police investigation was launched, and the parliamentary ombudsman became involved. The minister was livid, and summoned the chief of police to her office. There, using intimidation and threats, she tried to meddle in the investigation, causing the chief of police, who was very popular with the public, to resign. Eventually the minister’s assistant was formally charged with breach of confidence in public office. I think it is safe to say that in any other democratic country, a minister whose closest assistant had been charged with a crime would have taken political responsibility and resigned. Not so in Iceland. Any suggestions to that effect have been met with arrogance and a “I did not do anything wrong so why should I resign” stance.

17.

This week it came to light that the Chairman of the Board of the Financial Supervisory Authority had been involved in some pretty shady dealings when she worked for Íslandsbanki back in 2011. The bank brought charges against her when she left its employ. Despite this stellar track record, the Independence Party appointed her Chairman of the Board of the FSA last December – the very government body that is supposed to prevent the sorts of dealings that she, herself, was involved in.

18.

A couple of weeks ago the company MS, Iceland’s largest dairy producer, was fined ISK 370 million for abusing its strong market position. And yeah, its market position is pretty strong, by virtue of it having had a monopoly on milk sales in Iceland for several decades. MS is exempt from competition laws, which is a political decision. Over the last ten years or so it has employed mafia-like tactics to bankrupt at least two small start-ups in the milk industry. This form of bullying by MS has gone on for decades against smaller companies to [successfully] force them out of business. Mind you, the current coalition parties cannot be held solely responsible for this, since it has been going on for longer than this election term. But this is the sort of Soviet-like climate that exists in certain pockets of this society, to help the rich get richer.

19.

A couple of weeks ago it was revealed that 200 machine guns and pistols were purchased from Norway for regular police officers to keep in their patrol cars. Until now, Icelandic police officers have been unarmed, though there is a special squad trained to deal with crisis situations. Icelandic authorities dismissed the report as inaccurate, saying that the guns were a “gift” and that there were moreover 150 of them, not 200. The Norwegian Army later confirmed that 250 machine guns were sold to Iceland, at the behest of the Icelandic Coast Guard. No debate or discussion about this very radical change in policy for Icelandic law enforcement took place. One has to infer that the intention was to arm the police force in secret. Why? On top of this, it came to light a couple of days ago Coast Guard imported the weapons illegally, without the involvement of customs officials. Why? And why can’t Icelandic authorities tell the truth?

20.

The media landscape in Iceland could easily be the subject of its own lengthy post. As we all know, a free and independent media is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and corrupt powers in society repeatedly seek to have control of that same media. Of the three major newspapers in Iceland, two of them – Morgunblaðið and Fréttablaðið – are blatantly designed to serve the interests of their owners. The third, DV, was independent and did some investigative reporting until August of this year [see item 16, above]. Long story short, something like a hostile takeover took place, involving a well-known businessman here in Iceland whose shady dealings had been repeatedly exposed by the paper. There were others involved as well, who at the time were not revealed. Now, two months later, rumours abound that individuals with ties to the Progressive Party are those who took over paper; in any event it seems that it will soon be merged with other media affiliated with the PP.

~ That’s ten more added to my list, and I could go on – but this post has now gone on even longer than the first and I trust you get the picture. Remember Austurvöllur today at 5 GMT, and if you can’t get there, there is always webcam.

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[Photo EPA/SIGURDUR J. OLAFSSON]

With impunity

October 27, 2014

Recently I posted some musings on Facebook, wondering whether the Icelanders of today were much like the Icelanders of old under the oppressive heel of our former colonizers. It often seems to me that the people of this country choose blindness over sight, letting a certain segment of society [read: the elite] perform increasingly outrageous acts with complete impunity. And I’m […]

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A milestone

October 20, 2014

Today, October 20, it is ten years since I started this blog. I just realized this. So I thought I’d take a quick jog down memory lane. In October 2004 I was, um, ten years younger than today. I had written a novel that got picked up by an agent in London but which failed […]

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Recycling old party tricks: shooting the regulators

October 16, 2014

Over the last two evenings, current affairs programme Kastljós has run an excellent report exposing a long-term price-fixing scheme between the two main shipping companies in Iceland – Eimskip and Samskip. The findings came in the wake of a raid by the Competition Authority on the offices of the two companies several months ago. Iceland is a country that produces very […]

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Six years on: God bless Iceland

October 6, 2014

Today it is six years since then-Prime Minister Geir Haarde* appeared before the Icelandic nation and delivered his “God bless Iceland” speech, in which he told us, in very circumspect language, that this country was completely screwed. It was a terrifying day. Everyone had their own reaction to the speech: some people wept, some [like me] were […]

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Iceland, six years after the meltdown

September 29, 2014

Six years ago today, my bank, Glitnir, collapsed. It was a regular Monday. EPI and I had just returned from a holiday abroad the night before, he had gone to work, and I was at home unpacking the suitcases. At around 9 am he called me and told me that Glitnir had gone bankrupt. I was speechless. […]

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