I have been so preoccupied with the volcanic eruption and other things back home that I haven’t written a thing about the Gräv10 conference that is the reason for my being here in Stockholm.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Gräv is the name of the annual conference of the Association of Investigative Journalists here in Sweden. [Gräv means “to dig”.] Around 700 people attended the conference which was held at the HQ of Swedish radio [Radiohuset].
It started on Friday and wound up on Sunday, and during those three days there was a packed programme. Unfortunately I did not get to see as many events as I would have liked because I was limited to the ones that were in English so my selection was, well, limited. If I’m not mistaken there were only four in English, and one of those [with the guy from Politifact] was scheduled at the same time as mine.
I shared a podium with a woman from Latvia named Sanita Jemberga. I knew very little about the Latvian situation before I arrived [we don’t get much news from there in Iceland] but found myself nodding furiously [if not physically, then at least inwardly] at Sanita’s descriptions. The similarities between our two countries at the present time are so striking! The same corrupt oligarchs [only theirs are Russian and are close to oil money], the same power struggles to gain control of the media. Sanita worked for one of the most respected papers in Latvia [if not the ONLY respected paper] — until it was sold, that is, and the new “owner” – a former Managing Director – refused to say where the money came from. This went on for weeks until finally it was announced that there were “new owners” — in the form of the Rowland family, who also happen to be the ones that bought Kaupthing Luxembourg, now renamed Banque Havilland. [Curiously enough, despite allegedly running a new bank they kept on much of the high-level staff, many of whom were Icelandic and some of whom are currently under investigation.] Long story short, Sanita and about 20 others staged a walkout and are currently trying to launch an online paper.
I also instantly clicked with Erin Arvedlund, who was the first person to write an article about Bernie Madoff, back in 2001, questioning the astonishing returns on his hedge fund. I managed to see Erin’s lecture, in which she told her story: how she had received an anonymous tip that all was not kosher with Mr Madoff’s business practices, how she investigated, how she wrote the story that she thought would win the Pulitzer, and her absolute bafflement when NOTHING happened. Until 2009, when she was finally vindicated. A couple of weeks later, Penguin called and asked her to write a book, called Too Good to be True; The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff. Her lecture was wonderful — not just because she’s a great storyteller, but also because she is the first person to actually explain to me how Madoff went about doing what he did, and how he got away with it for 30 years. A story that beggars belief.
The only other lecture I managed to catch was one by Danish blogger Dorte Toft, who exposed the company IT Factory – chosen Denmark’s best IT company two years running and which allegedly had a turnover of millions – as a scam. The story made headlines around the world in November or December 2008 when the CEO – Stein Bagger – disappeared while on holiday in Dubai with his family. Turns out he had done the skedaddle – run off to the States – but was apprehended and is now serving seven years in jail. Before this, however, he had tried everything he could to brush off Dorte, who stuck to his coat sleeve like an annoying piece of lint, trying to get something on him that would reveal that the guy was a fraud. — The story had me listening open-mouthed [and not for the first time] at how stupid people can be who think they are untouchable and are consumed by greed. — I also learned a lot from the lecture about blogging itself and its inherent potential [Dorte actively engaged her readers in the investigation, with great success!].
One lecture I wish I could have seen but missed [because it was in Swedish] was that of Minna Knus-Galan, who works for Finnish television and unearthed a huge development-money corruption scandal in Costa Rica, involving a Finnish company that sold hospital equipment. Minna worked on that story for four years and collaborated with a Costa Rican colleague. She sat next to me at two dinners and was such great company!
Anyway, here is a rather haphazard picture, taken at the lavish gala dinner held on the Saturday night, when the prizes for best investigative journalism of the year were handed out. It was just like being at the Oscars. [On second thought, make that the Golden Globes.]
Many thanks to all at Gräv for inviting me and taking such an interest in the situation in Iceland. And last but not least for being such excellent hosts!