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One more dispatch from the cesspool

This evening, Kastljós ran an interview with one Ásbjörn Óttarson, an MP for the Independence Party.* Alongside his parliamentary duties, Ásbjörn runs a fishing company on Snæfellsnes.

A few days ago, DV reported that Ásbjörn had paid himself dividends from his company amounting to ISK 20 million in 2007, despite the fact that the company had registered a loss in 2006. This is illegal. The following year, 2008, he paid himself dividends of ISK 65 million.

After DV broke the story, Fréttablaðið got on Ásbjörn’s case, demanding answers. At that point he promptly paid the ISK 20m back into the company, pleading ignorance of taxation laws [his accountant at the time is now deceased].

What is particularly disturbing about this story [apart from the fact that the guy is an MP and involved in questionable business practices] is that Ásbjörn Óttarson is a member of a committee of parliamentarians appointed to deal with the findings of the Black Report when it is released.

* What else?

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  • Tom Harper January 26, 2010, 10:50 pm

    UGH! It seems like the political class in Iceland is so used to not having the rules apply to them that, even after cleaning house post-crisis, they just can’t help themselves!

    Iceland really needs to turn the political norm on its head to get through to all these people! The protests are a good start. Keep the pressure one!

  • Joerg January 26, 2010, 10:53 pm

    Which might indicate, that there isn’t much enlightening to be expected from this Black Report…

    The business practices of the Fishery Industry as a whole seem to be worth of expressing wrath by pots and pans – more than anything in connection with the Icesave diversion.

  • sylvia hikins January 26, 2010, 11:23 pm

    The corruptors are a small minority. There’s more of you than them. You have a Left/Green coalition in Government. Surely a clean up would have the approval of the people? An inability to act suggests systemic failure that reaches beyond the banks. Is Johanna too nice to get her gloves off? Or are your laws so weak that they prevent her? Is it pots and pans time again?
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • alda January 26, 2010, 11:31 pm

    Joerg — yes, the quota factor is a big one … there are so many injustices in this society that one doesn’t know where to start. Talk about feeling overwhelmed!

    sylvia – Jóhanna is pretty ineffectual as a leader. Steingrímur J. is doing all the work. But I think the cesspool is beyond the capacity of any one person.

  • hildigunnur January 26, 2010, 11:33 pm

    Fleh!

  • Alexander E. January 27, 2010, 1:04 am

    One could try going to the streets with pots. But I doubt this would impress MPs (it worked first time but now the surprise moment has gone).

    I think Icelander should stay positive…as long as possible…and wait for honest politicians/bankers to come and do life easy and pleasant again.
    Really… 😉

    PS. Does anyone think the anticipated Black Report will change the life?

  • John Hopkins January 27, 2010, 3:06 am

    That, and the problem is endemic across the spectrum of business owners (not everybody, but LOTS of people), using private business as a tax haven, and a general sense of do whatever is necessary to make it. Combine that with the problem that you have only 300 K people all with big extended families who have lived on the island for 1K years. You can’t get a disinterested position on political/economic policies as whatever position you take will somehow relate to a relative, yikes! The IP clearly had a more effective machine (along with a classic cult of personality around D.O.) to milk a system with those characteristics. I think a real political shift is as likely as Afghanistan suddenly going from the loya jurgas with elders and tribal leaders to the particular variation of “representative democracy” that the US practices (no comment about using democracy and the US in the same sentence ;-\). Social relation that actualizes any political system is largely built on tradition, and Iceland got itself where it is by following that tradition. It was only when they thought they could milk the wider system which was not structured like theirs when their hubris got the better of them, and they failed miserably — because they had no experience in competing on a global market place where snug relations with a brother-in-law won’t really help you with banking regulations in a foreign country…

  • Andrew January 27, 2010, 3:09 am

    Looks like some prosecutions may be coming closer. The SFO, as it’s name suggests only deals with the most serious financial crimes and I’m told that it only moves when it thinks a prosecution is likely:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/jan/26/sfo-raids-icelandic-firms

    Icelandic tycoons at centre of SFO raids
    Serious Fraud Office carries out series of raids on offices of firms linked to Lýdur and Ágúst Gudmundsson

  • Rik Hardy January 27, 2010, 3:17 am

    Sorry! Here’s a corrected version (too many “would”s at the end):

    I think Sylvia is right – Johanna is a good, respectably brought up woman – too nice to face the awful reality here.
    I also get the feeling that Steingrimur, an amazing politician who can keep his cool in the face of any verbal attack, is pulling his punches – like he’s afraid the mafia will murder his favourite horse or something… He has the knowledge, determination and frankness to make a difference, but something seems to be stopping him. As many have commented, there is still no change in Iceland more than a year after the big bang. That’s hardly the message Steingrimur was hoping to send to his supporter base when he came to power. He can’t possibly be happy with that.
    And I still can’t believe that the main media keep asking the IP for their opinion on all this! Would G. W. Bush’s opinion on Hurricane Katarina be of interest to anyone today?

  • Andrew (the other one) January 27, 2010, 4:47 am

    “Ásbjörn Óttarson is a member of a committee of parliamentarians appointed to deal with the findings of the Black Report when it is released”

    But at least he is not actually involving in writing the Black Report. He has to be seen to be acting on it when it finally arrives. Is that correct?

    Honestly, if you want to be able to negotiate effectively with the UK and NL governments, you have to overcome the image of the whole political/financial class in Iceland being a bunch of blackguards, rogues and scoundrels. I’m sure that some of them must be okay!

    Okay, honest politicians… hum

  • sylvia hikins January 27, 2010, 10:52 am

    All cesspools can be drained. They have to be when they start to stink too much. Otherwise disease will spread into the whole community. Time to get the cleaning agents out!
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • Bromley86 January 27, 2010, 1:16 pm

    I quite liked Vilhjalm Antonsen’s point over on Icenews. Different story, but still applicable:

    As I have said before, the best thing to do is to withdraw the 1918 declaration of independence from Denmark, disband Althingi, and force the Danes to take you back.
    http://www.icenews.is/index.php/2010/01/25/is-icesave-affair-as-important-as-it-seems/comment-page-1/#comment-111441

  • James January 27, 2010, 11:34 pm

    “despite the fact that the company had registered a loss in 2006. This is illegal.”

    Note that dividends can also be used to return investment (instead of profits) to stockholders.

  • Matt January 29, 2010, 4:06 pm

    Doesn’t this show that the system works though? Every parliamentary system will have its corrupt members, and it’s an impossible task to ensure they will never be there.

    Rather, the point is to make the system as open as possible so the corruption is discovered and weeded out. We now know about Ásbjörn Óttarsson, and three days after you wrote this he’s resigned from the committee. Score one for a free and fair society!