The most incredible farce has been playing itself out here in Niceland – a farce starring a former parliamentarian named Árni Johnsen.
This guy was an MP for the [ruling] Independence Party a few years back. He was a bit like the class buffoon – always grinning and happy-go-lucky, the sort of guy that made you secretly wonder if he was a little vacant in the head. He was well-known for a couple of things: a) leading the campfire singing during the Þjóðhátíð celebrations [a.k.a. the rowdiest drinkfest of the year] every summer, in his constituency the Westman Islands and b) Getting Things Done. Because, evidently [it has since transpired] you could always count on old Árni to Get Things Done.
Which is perhaps why he was given the role of heading a committee that was overseeing the renovations of the National Theatre. Evidently he was so good at his job that the rest of the committee sort of stopped attending the meetings and just let Árni get on with it. So one day, Árni Johnsen shows up at BYKO [building supplies/DIY store] and an amazed worker watches as he climbs into the back of a delivery van, pulls out a thick marker, scratches out the address of the National Theatre, and writes his own personal address on the shipment instead.
So the BYKO worker calls one of the tabloids [OK, the only tabloid] and the tabloid sends its most heavy-handed investigative journalists out, and long story short, Árni Johnsen gets busted. It turns out that for around two years he’d been renovating/building both of his homes [in Reykjavík and a second one in the Westman Islands] under the National Theatre’s budget and had done a pretty fine job of it as well. [Whereas the National Theatre was falling to pieces… but that’s another story.]
So this supremely comical sequence of events follows, in which ÁJ first tries surreptitiously to shift the building supplies under cover of night into the theatre’s storage room, and lies and cheats and basically hangs himself with his own rope because it’s just so obvious to everyone that he’s lying, the evidence is all there. Obvious to everyone except Árni, that is, who vehemently denies the charges, and when he can no longer deny them, goes about justifying them. His main line of reasoning: ‘I don’t get paid enough for the committee work, so I decided just to take out in goods what I felt was owed to me.’
Not good enough for the Supreme Court, unfortunately, and ÁJ ends up being sentenced to two years in prison on charges of corruption, fraud and embezzlement. At no point does he show any remorse, except when the noose is already tight around his neck and the media keeps asking: ‘Why are you not showing any remorse?’ – at which point he allows this photo to be taken of himself.
So anyway, Árni serves his time at the comfortable, white-collar penitentiary Kvíabryggja, and makes it his first task on entering the prison to order a round of new beds for all the inmates. He makes good use of his time there, too, and creates an assortment of grotesque sculptures made out of big rocks and metal [truly hideous, in fact so much that no amount of online searching turns up even a single picture] and in such quantity that three huge moving trailers are needed to cart them all away. [UPDATE: Visitors to Iceland may have noticed some of Árni’s rock, er, “sculptures” while driving along the road leading to the airport. On the right hand side [when you’re driving TO the airport] there is a “family” of “people” made out of rocks that loom against the sky up on a hill. The town of Reykjanesbær purchased these prison “sculptures” from Árni a few years ago and, oh, I should probably mention that Árni’s cousin was mayor of the town.]
Of course, while incarcerated, Árni Johnsen is unable to lead the singing at the Þjóðhátíð festival, although this does not stop him from applying for a special leave for just that purpose. Permission is denied, and you’d think the world had come to an end: organizers go on about how it won’t be the same without Árni, and he himself rants from inside his
luxury suiteprison cell about how unfair it is and why isn’t he given a break as he truly deserves it, and blah-de-blah. Anyway, it’s a no-go – however, he is released early a few months later on good behavior and immediately takes a holiday in the Caribbean with his wife, one of the prison guards at Kvíabryggja, and the prison guard’s wife who works as a cook in the kitchen.
After that, not much is heard from Árni Johnsen, until last August when out of the blue comes the news that he had been granted a full pardon.
Normally only the President is able to grant pardons, but coincidentally he is out of the country when the pardon goes through, and the acting executives of presidential authority [a.k.a. Árni Johnsen’s comrades in the Independence Party, including the prime minister] sign the papers at the behest of the Minister of Justice [also a comrade]. Yep – in other words the mice hastily use the opportunity when the cat is away to whitewash their man.
So the first question the media has is whether Árni is planning to return to politics but he plays coy and neither confirms nor denies. And then – surprise surprise – he takes part in the IP’s preliminary elections a couple of weeks ago, and lo! Wins the second seat in the south Iceland [Westman Islands] constituency, which means that if the IP wins the elections next spring [which they have since forever] Árni Johnsen will once again be in parliament and may technically become Minister of Justice. Hurray!*
Following his big coup, he was asked by the media what he now thought of his former misdemeanors and if he had any regrets. His reply has become the most oft quoted phrase in Iceland in the last week. Are you ready for it? I made a technical error. Mm-hm. When asked to elaborate as to just what his ‘technical error’ consisted of, he refused to comment. Perhaps wisely. After all, the guy can’t seem to open his mouth without putting his foot in it. Or worse.
I’ve rambled so much there’s hardly any room left [the blog equivalent of Árni Johnsen’s hideous artwork, perhaps] but let’s just say the snow has remained, the air is fresh and clean and it’s a winter wonderland out there. Temps –4°C at the moment and sunrise was at 10.12, sunset at 16.14.
* Hurray because with any luck people will be so sick of the whole business that they’ll vote the IP out.