A couple of days ago I met up with a documentary filmmaker who is looking to make a film about the Icelandic crisis. We had a very interesting chat, and during the course of our conversation he told me he’d been speaking to what he called “the Viking contingent” in London — i.e. the oligarchs who were largely responsible for trashing Iceland’s economy [and who have fled now reside in the UK]. According to him, they were all “willing to talk”, largely because they wanted to refute the “lies” that had been spread about them in the Icelandic media.
There was, however, one notable exception. Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson — he who returned with his father and their business partner from Russia in 2002, ostensibly with coffers full of gold, and proceeded to buy Landsbanki from the Icelandic state — said he was willing to talk about anything, anything at all, except his years in Russia. All questions about his Russian business dealings, his time in St. Petersburg, and so forth, were strictly off limits.
Now, as many of you will know, there have been persistent rumours about Björgólfur Jr. and Sr.’s involvement with the Russian mafia over the years. It was even alleged that their acquisition of Landsbanki had ties to Russian money laundering, etc. Indeed, an article in The Guardian in 2005 suggested this quite openly:
In 1993, the three men embarked on a fascinating journey to St Petersburg, Russia. There they helped form the Baltic Bottling Plant. Ownership of that company would later be challenged in the courts but away from the legal battles and recriminations, the Icelanders sold the plant to Pepsi and used the proceeds to move into the brewing business, with the launch of Bravo International. […]
[…] The move into brewing was bold. The Russian economy was in crisis and foreign investment drying up. Yet the Icelanders were not only ploughing money into the country but doing it in the city regarded as the Russian mafia capital. That investment was being made in the drinks sector, seen by the mafia as the industry of choice.
Yet against all the odds, Bravo went from strength to strength.
Other St Petersburg brewing executives were not so fortunate. One was shot dead in his kitchen from the ledge of a fifth-floor window. Another perished in a hail of bullets as he stepped from his Mercedes. And one St Petersburg brewery burned to the ground after a mishap with a welding torch.
But the Bravo business, run by three self-confessed naives, suddenly found itself to be one of Russia’s leading brewers.
Interesting, no? And no less interesting the fact that Björgólfur and Co. will have no mention of the Russian years, years in which, incidentally, a position of Honorary Consul to Iceland was established in St. Petersburg — and filled by Björgólfur Thor Björólfsson!
Anyway, if the two Björgólfurs did in fact have an association with the mafia in Russia, it’s not surprising that they are scared witless of the Russian years. After all, the fact that their competitors met their demise, while Bravo went “from strength to strength”, speaks volumes [though far be it from me to insinuate anything, ahem].
The filmmaker I spoke to, who incidentally has known Russia from the inside, said he could well understand their, um, reservations — after all, he said, he wouldn’t touch the Russian mafia with a ten-foot pole, not even from a purely documentary viewpoint.
All of which kind of makes you wonder about the two Björgólfurs. After all, if there was no fire, why would there be smoke?