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Oligarchs with hats

Last Saturday I had occasion to visit the supermarket.

Hagkaup on Seltjarnarnes, to be exact.

As I stood there, picking out oranges, I noticed a rather shifty-looking individual standing opposite me, picking over the apples. He was wearing a big parka and a hat pulled down around his ears, and looked decidedly furtive.

I did a double take as I realized that it was one of Iceland’s most notorious oligarchs — a guy who, on any occasion I’ve ever seen him, has always positively OOZED confidence and self-respect.

Now he looked like a guilty skateboarder [minus the droopy pants].

Also last weekend, there was a lengthy interview in DV, in which Pálmi Haraldsson, another member of the Group of 30*, bemoans his fate. He says he feels like a person under house arrest — he can’t go out without fear of being accosted, can’t go to the pool, can’t go to the grocery store. He regrets the loss of his reputation as a good and honest citizen, admits to having taken part in unscrupulous business deals, but is adamant that he did not break the law. “Mea culpa” says Pálmi — only not really, because nobody came to bust up the party. [GAG]

Then, a few days ago, someone I know happened to meet a young guy with whom she got talking. During the course of the conversation the subject turned to parents and what they did for a living. She asked what his father did. “You don’t want to know,” was the response.

Turned out he was the son of one of Iceland’s most notorious banksters.

So this is what it’s come to for these former Golden Boys. They’ve fallen so far from their pedestals that even their own children are ashamed of them.

Perhaps this is the greatest punishment they could ever get — being despised and ostracized by their own people.

[* It’s estimated that between 20-30 people managed to bankrupt the entire Icelandic nation.]



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Michael Lewis March 12, 2010, 4:39 pm

    So this is what the average Icelandic grocery store looks like now:


    All after the ” shifty-looking “, “furtive”, “banksters”, “despised” and “ostracized” …

  • gloria March 12, 2010, 5:44 pm

    It’s estimated that between 20-30 people managed to bankrupt the entire Icelandic nation.

    So what are their names, and why haven’t they been held accountable? Were their crimes the result of gross negligence (combined with greed, narcissism, and any number of totally selfish and self-interested acts and attitudes) or did they actually break the law? Has anyone asked them to cough up the money?

  • James March 12, 2010, 7:28 pm

    “even their own children are ashamed of them”

    It’s the same for every parent! 🙂

  • kevin oconnor,waterford ireland March 12, 2010, 8:02 pm

    Thought that most of them would have high tailed it out of Niceland happiest country in the world by now, I know that I would being reduced to my last miserable €1 million, what if that black book report turns nasty on them, the Josef Mengele trail to the Boys from Brazil awaits, they could start fresh financial products in the Amazon.

  • Joerg March 12, 2010, 8:46 pm

    This reads like those oligarchs being a modern kind of outlaws. Luckily for them, they are even allowed to go shopping in a supermarket and don’t have to live in caves in the highlands.

    If you add all the enabling politicians, lawyers, hangers-on and all those, who were always ready for some advantageous insider trade, then it’s certainly more than just 20-30 people involved. Of course, it’s convenient for them to deflect from their own responsibility by finger-pointing towards the oligarchs.

  • MishaBear March 12, 2010, 8:49 pm

    Gloria, all good questions. The ongoing investigation led by Eva Joly is exactly try to answer them. Sadly, white-collar crimes are often the result of an underlying agreement between some that have the political and legislative power and those who have the money to speculate.

    This is what has been happening in my country, Italy, where the richest man (and owner of most of the media) is also the prime minister. Historically, in Italy, convictions for white-collar crimes are ridiculous – chances of actually going in prison are higher if you steal bread from a supermarket.

    I think it is very important that the investigation in Iceland will produce some tangible results; but it is indeed satisfying to see the way these individuals are now being rejected by the Icelandic community. It means, in my opinion, that, overall, the country is much “healthier” than a lot of other countries.

  • sylvia hikins March 12, 2010, 10:01 pm

    I thought that most of the big names upped and moved to Moscow or London where they were now living in posh undisclosed addresses. It’s usually the small fry that are abandoned to face the music. Am I wrong? Having just shopped in a Reykjavik supermarket post your blog, I found I was sizing up the clientelle rather than the bananas. Spot the Bankster will bring a whole new dimension to shopping in Iceland!
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • Johanna March 12, 2010, 10:10 pm

    This is what happens in Iceland.

    It’s not exactly nice for a leading Icelandic bankster going to the store, Nóatún at Nóatún 17 in this particular case, and being told by an old man in no uncertain manner that the bankster is a disgrace to his parents who were decent people. Everybody in the store listened. The old man was quite loud. Bankster in question had wife with him.

    Reminds me of the ultimate punishment in the old Icelandic sagas. When they told someone who had violated the law or code of ethics or whatever it’s called in English, that they were exiled and could never return and be a part of the society in Iceland.

    Shunning…Horrific punishment in my opinion. I’m Icelandic, my relatives are here, my friends, everything, my language, my life. Even the fellow Icelanders that often get on my nerves and sort of drive me crazy on occasions, I’d even miss them.


  • Andrew (the other one) March 13, 2010, 12:30 am

    Do the oligarchs look anything like these gentlemen from Stockholm?



    “Shunning…Horrific punishment in my opinion. ”

    Agreed. In English you can say “They have been sent to Coventry” – i.e. are ignored. I have no idea why this is so – the people in Coventry are very friendly.

  • alda March 13, 2010, 10:50 am

    gloria – what MishaBear said.

    sylvia – there is a handful still here. Or they have homes here and pop in every now and again when they have *cough* business to attend to.

    Andrew — I SWEAR that first guy is Bjarni Ármansson. So that’s where he is! 😉

  • Andrew (the other one) March 13, 2010, 7:36 pm


    I think Bjarni used to appear on British TV before he went into finance:


    Maybe he’s gone to Hollywood…

  • Egbert March 13, 2010, 10:26 pm

    Pictures or it didn’t happen!