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Just don’t mention the Russians

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?

Comments

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  • Tom Harper August 30, 2010, 1:28 pm

    I suppose my big question is, what is the impact of this and any subsequent revelations? I think it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that there will be no legal fallout.

    Will he find more resistance to doing business in Iceland (as I recall, he is a major investor in a new data centre project)? Or just more awkward stares when he appears at the gym?

  • alda August 30, 2010, 1:30 pm

    Let’s see what Eva Joly et al dig up. Otherwise I think just more awkward stares. After all, these aren’t really revelations, just rumours — and they’ve been around for ages.

  • Rik Hardy August 30, 2010, 2:48 pm

    I wonder if Eva Joly has the nerve to take on the Russian sewers…
    Clearly a courageous woman, but dying in a hail of bullets tends to hamper your style…
    I hope a lot of people are praying for her.
    There’s probably not much else one can do.

  • Ragnhildur Sverrisdóttir August 30, 2010, 5:06 pm

    Hi, Alda.
    Can you please inform who this filmmaker is. Neither Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson nor anyone in his office has received any invitation to talk to a maker of a documentary film in more than a year.
    Best regards,
    Ragnhildur Sverrisdóttir,
    Head of Information,
    Novator.

  • Ragnhildur Sverrisdóttir August 30, 2010, 5:36 pm

    Hi, Alda.
    Can you please inform who this filmmaker is. Neither Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson nor anyone in his office has received any invitation to talk to a maker of a documentary film in more than a year.
    Best regards,
    Ragnhildur Sverrisdóttir,
    Head of Information,
    Novator.

  • harry August 30, 2010, 6:00 pm

    Tom: point is, while others go to the gym, he probably owns a couple in his basement(s).

    Has there ever been any in-depth investigation on activities of Russian mafia in Iceland?

    Interesting read, thanks for the article!

  • sylvia hikins August 30, 2010, 6:04 pm

    Can anything be done over here in the UK that might get the bastards who are now living in London extradited?
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • Michael Schulz August 30, 2010, 6:19 pm

    No fire but smoke? Did “Father & Son & Culprits” channel their cash via Cyprus to … hmmmm… elsewhere or not? Hack it out and you’ll find there are lots of (hell) fires burning in Cyprus!
    Cheers,
    Michael

  • The Fred from the forums August 30, 2010, 6:23 pm

    Didn’t Eva Joly face down death threats in a previous job?

  • Jon August 30, 2010, 7:45 pm

    I wouldn’t touch the Russian mafia with a five foot Pole, either. Even if it was Roman Polanski.(Sorry, couldn’t help it)

  • sylvia hikins August 30, 2010, 8:47 pm

    Oooooh Jon. Naughty, naughty!
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • sigthor August 31, 2010, 7:33 am

    harry August 30, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    No Harry, no investigation on there activities, but the government gave a new company partly owned by Bjorgolfur a nice tax break to start there business in Iceland.

    That is how we deal with our criminals, we give them nice juicy tax break and few years to hide there money before they get sued for minor things.

  • Bromley86 August 31, 2010, 10:57 am

    >Didn’t Eva Joly face down death threats in a previous job?

    Ultimately, whatever you think of the oil industry, they are (a) public companies and, in this case, (b) French. The Russian mafia is exactly what it says on the tin 🙂 .

  • Rik Hardy August 31, 2010, 12:24 pm

    Depends what you mean by “face down death threats”.
    If your body guards are good, you can stay alive.
    If you end up dead, have you faced down the death threats?

    But I would certainly say that Eva Joly seems to have given previous death threats the middle finger… A heroine could hardly do more.

  • Ragnhildur Sverrisdóttir August 31, 2010, 3:46 pm

    As the spokesperson for Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson and his investment company, Novator, I repeat:

    Neither Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson nor anyone in his office has received any invitation to talk to a maker of a documentary film in more than a year. I am afraid your „documentary filmmaker“ led you to publish slander on your (often) interesting web page.

    Björgólfur Thor has discussed his business in Russia with media in Iceland, Britain, Denmark, Finland, Bulgaria etc. and he has repeatedly responded to allegations like the ones you echo on this web page. Repeating slander doesn‘t make it true.

    Ragnhildur Sverrisdóttir
    Head of information
    Novator