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Former Kaupthing executive dishes the dirt, and no, it’s not Ármann Þorvaldsson

Interesting interview in Silfur Egils  today with Tony Shearer, a former executive with the bank Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander in London.

KS&F used to be just plain old Singer & Friedlander until it was taken over by now-defunct Kaupthing bank, in 2006 or thereabouts. The Icelandic útrásarvíkingar placed themselves firmly at the helm, most notably one Ármann Þorvaldsson, who has since gone on to write a book about the meltdown, called Frozen Assets, the name of which has popped up once or twice in the forums and/or comments.

The interview is taken from a soon-to-be released film about the meltdown [for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it and ten minutes of googling has turned up nothing, help!] and in it, Shearer absolutely slams old Ármann, his working practices and not least, his book. I see the RÚV website does not have the latest Silfur Egils episode up yet, but it will be under this link and the interview is about halfway through the programme, for anyone who is interested.

Incidentally, there seems to be a lot more interest in these meltdown books written by former key players abroad than there is here in Iceland. Up here, in fact, there is a widespread sense of indignation, along the lines of: They bankrupted the country and now they expect us to pay to read about it? – profoundly uncool.

Icelandic Yule Lads

A few of those jolly Icelandic Yule Lads

MEANWHILE, ON THE YULE FRONT
As many of you will know and some have mentioned in the comments, our Yule Lads have started arriving. I’ve written about the Yule Lads at length in previous years, e.g. here and here and here; suffice it to say that these are our versions of Santa Claus, there are 13 of them, their father is a flunky and their mother an ogre who eats children, and they get up to no good. They also deposit little gifts in the shoes of good children, who have strategically left those shoes next to the open window before they go to bed, see here and here. Unless they’ve been bad, in which case they leave them a potato.

WE HAVE SUMMER TEMPS AROUND HERE
It is still completely balmy and also wery wery dark. Seriously, it is the middle of December and it’s ten degrees out there [50F]. HOW ARE YOU DOING OVER THERE IN COPENHAGEN? SIGNED ANYTHING YET? Sun came up at 11.12, set at 15.30.

[Photo credit]

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  • sylvia hikins December 14, 2009, 12:52 am

    I agree Alda that you Icelanders don’t need to read books about the way your banksters operated, but here in the UK Iceland is almost never in the news. Did we hear about your ‘kitchen revolution’ and how you brought your Government down? Of course not! Better to feed us salacious stories of Tiger Woods, or endless football. Freedom of the Press means freedom to distort stories and leave whole chunks of news out altogether. So forgive us for our late night reading (which happily includes your blog). We all share responsibilty in turning a blind eye to a corrupt financial system for which ordinary people all over the world, (but especially the people of Iceland ) will be paying off for years. My blood is beginning to boil again just writing this down.
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • TMCD December 14, 2009, 3:57 am

    What a motley crew of nardly Santa Dudes 🙂
    Guess, I am getting a potato : )

  • The Fred from the forums December 14, 2009, 5:24 am
  • kevin o'connor waterford Ireland December 14, 2009, 9:57 am

    As above KS&F ,Dont know the state of play on the Isle of Man at the moment but it has interesting qestions raised vis a vis the “Icesave thing” as Icelandic government has to take responsibility for that, but does the Isle Of Man government have to take a Loan to pay back the depositers in KS&F, as far as I am aware Gordon Broon has washed his hands of that one due to the fact that these funny little Islands such as the channel islands and the isle of man are not UK proper have their own goverments etc (May not even be in the EU) and fell out of the remit of the deposit protection thing for UK bank accounts,people put their money in there because they were told they could not have UK bank accounts being expats etc and they may have thought that they were safe because Isle of Man is British right ?.It is also clouded by the fact that UK plc gov. took out KS&F in that asset grab freeze things icelandic and it may have survived so they say. The people that got wiped out have their own web site.Some real sob stories.

    http://www.ksfiomdepositors.org/node/21

    The whole thing is going through the courts, luckily for me I do not have £50,000 or 50,000 euros yen whatever in any accounts whatsoever, but I imagine that those 65 plus types would be gutted to see their life savings go down the swanee river.

    I can see why Icelanders dont want to read the inside story from people that caused the inside story in the first place ha ha.

  • sylvia hikins December 14, 2009, 12:15 pm

    The books written by independent journalists and economists who have dug the depths of this murky system are the best. I would never buy, let alone read, the semi-autobiographical rubbish (quite possibly ghost written ) that is supposed to pass as the (self-justifying) truth.
    ps: snow is forecast for eastern England!-would you like some??!!!
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • alda December 14, 2009, 12:47 pm

    sylvia – point taken, but I think most of us here feel that foreign journos just aren’t able to dig the depths of the murky system and that their take is generally rather superficial and cliched. I haven’t read Roger Boyes’s book (I’m actually curious to know what he writes about the blog – I did speak to Roger at the time, but flipped through the index in the book and didn’t see the Weather Report listed – although he does list my name … but I digress) but I’ve seen excerpts from it and was disappointed to see some of those old cliches coming through. I also watched an interview with him on Silfur Egils where it seemed he fell into the pit of oversimiplifying, making Davíð Oddsson into the main villain, etc. Some people here have given his books the thumbs up – others have given it absolutely scathing reviews. Like I said, I haven’t read it, but those scathing reviews have not sounded improbable to me.

  • Joerg December 14, 2009, 1:31 pm

    I can easily empathise with Icelanders, who are not interested in wasting time on reading explanations and justifications by those people, who are responsible for the collapse. So far, I also didn’t feel the inclination to start reading, even if I have bought one of those books.

    Recently, I have ordered ‘Meltdown Iceland’ by Roger Boyes, because the interview with him on Silfur Egils was quite interesting.

    But one book I am really missing is an account of how the kreppa is affecting everyday life in Iceland from the viewpoint of the (common) people. Shouldn’t this be your turn?      

  • alda December 14, 2009, 1:42 pm

    Thanks Joerg. 🙂 Probably it should be my turn. The only difference is that these guys are big names with big agents, whereas I’m a nobody. Trust me on this one. I’ve tried.

  • sylvia hikins December 14, 2009, 5:28 pm

    Of course you are right that foreign journos are on the outside looking in. I did think I was on to a more reliable source as Boyes has been reporting from Iceland since 1976 and is a correspondent for The Times (not that I read The Times-too far to the right for me and I avoid all of the newspapers under Murdoch’s control). I’m sure it does contain cliche’s but the analysis was enlightening and he did work with some progressive economists at the Univ of Iceland. You are mentioned on page 12 and on page 223 referred to as ‘founder of the influential blog icelandweatherreport.com’.
    Any books/reading you would recommend on this? Alas, I can’t read Icelandic although I am taking a beginner’s course at present!
    sylvia from viking wirral
    ps-you didn’t respond to my offer of snow!!!! (this is a weather report after all!!!!!)

  • alda December 14, 2009, 5:59 pm

    silvia – ‘founder of the influential blog …’ Cor blimey. And here I thought this was all just the inane contents of my brain. 😉

    As for reading material, it is a CRYING SHAME that the Icelandic books that have been written about this have not been published in English. I am thinking particularly of two: Hrunið and Hvíta Bókin. Hrunið is written by Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, a historian, and gives an excellent chronological account of what happened. The second is written by Einar Már Guðmundsson, and takes a somewhat different approach – Einar Már is first and foremost a novelist/poet and the book is an excellent read, alternately infuriating and hilarious. I know there were hopes that it would be released in English (I’m pretty sure it will be available in German) but so far I don’t believe there are any plans to translate Hrunið.

    And – yes please, send snow!! 🙂

  • WiseWoman December 14, 2009, 7:40 pm
  • James December 14, 2009, 7:42 pm

    I’m looking forward to the “Meltdown Iceland” book for Christmas (one of those presents where someone asks what they can get you, so you helpfully email them an Amazon link!). The book was number 40 in Amazon’s “bestsellers in economics” list.

    The “God Bless Iceland” film looks interesting. I found a trailer with English subtitles, but no idea if there’s a subtitled DVD:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3v43mCWiXRg

  • alda December 14, 2009, 7:49 pm

    WiseWoman – no no, not Dreamland, I’m very familiar with it! No – this one hasn’t been released yet.

  • James December 14, 2009, 7:58 pm

    Well, after some searching, subtitled “God Bless Iceland” can be ordered on DVD from the distributor, although it’s 30 euros including postage…
    http://www.deckert-distribution.com/deckert_movies_orderform.htm

  • kevin o'connor waterford Ireland December 14, 2009, 9:06 pm

    @wisewoman thanks for that link I have the book Dreamland and now with that link I have the DVD, plus a shop selling stuff Icelandic etc which I was not aware of.

    Maybe we could do a two way trade between Iceland and Ireland where we buy your “Meltdown” books and You could buy our “Dead Celtic Tiger” books and thereby pull both countries out of the slump !!

  • Joerg December 14, 2009, 10:28 pm

    The film “God Bless Iceland” by Helgi Felixson has been running in Germany on Arte TV under the title “Aufstand in Island”. This film is also available on youtube, having been split into 8 parts (in German without English subtitles).

    My favourite scene is the very last with an interview of JÁJ, where he is still proud of his deals, claiming he had done most things right with the exception, perhaps, of being a tad hubristic.

  • BRADSTREET December 15, 2009, 12:27 am

    Yeah, some of these meltdown books are like someone burgling your house, and then sending you an explanation in the post about how they got in , what they spent the money, how they got away etc. I expect a lot of the books tell how the author had nothing at all to do with the collapse, and it was actually all his colleagues fault. The meltdown will turn out to be like an accident where everyone was looking the other way. In this country, despite being shown to be, in some cases, almost verging on the criminal, politicians caught up in the expenses scandal still insist on trying to portray the whole thing as a storm in a teacup.

  • Andrew December 15, 2009, 10:03 am

    I’ve been monitoring the finance/economy situation in Iceland now for more than a year – mostly from your excellent blog! But what I still can’t really grasp is what it feels like to be caught in such a collapse. Can you give us all an overview of how things now look for the ordinary people in terms of how you all get by on a daily basis?

  • Elizabeth December 15, 2009, 6:25 pm

    I’m with Andrew in that I’d very much like to know how the ‘kreppa’ has affected ordinary Icelandic people. I’ve seen the youtube trailer for the ‘God Bless Iceland’ film – it looks very moving and seems to tell the story of Mr and Mrs Joe Public. Sadly, as we don’t have a DVD player I couldn’t watch the film even if I ordered it.

    I seriously think you could be just the person to write a book about the affect of the collapse on the Icelandic public – have you tried getting a UK / US publisher?

  • alda December 15, 2009, 7:24 pm

    Andrew, Elizabeth – the problem with writing about “the Icelandic people” and the kreppa is that it has affected everyone differently. It’s difficult to speak for anyone but oneself in such situations. Some people are in dire straits and about to lose everything, some people have profited substantially from the kreppa, and then there is the whole spectrum of experiences in between.

    If there is one thing we have in common, though, it is that our spending power has decreased vastly, i.e. our money buys us a lot less than it did before the kreppa, due to the currency devaluation, inflation, etc.

    As for publishers, yes I have tried, and I’m loath to describe my experiences with the publishing industry, because that’s just what it is, an industry. You don’t even get close to a publisher without an agent, and getting an agent is about as hard as getting a publisher. However, at the start of the kreppa about a year ago, I did happen to get close to two publishers, and they were very dismissive of any sort of kreppa book idea — they seemed to think that it would garner limited interest outside out of Iceland. In fact, I happen to have a couple of responses right here:

    “I have absolutely no doubt there is a place for the discussion, but I think blogging is probably the way forward.”

    And:

    “I am afraid we wouldn’t be the right people for this and I think that outside of Iceland people will be more interested in reading a long magazine article of the kind that the New Yorker includes than a whole book. A book will also be competing with a rash of “instant” books on the global financial crisis that are being written and will be covering a broader canvas.”

    Nuff said.