Well. I think it’s safe to say that the Icelandic nation is absolutely gobsmacked over the two bombs dropped by daily paper Fréttablaðið this weekend – one yesterday [boom], one today [BOOM].
It concerns the Baugur case, which I have steadfastly tried to keep my fingers off in this space, if only because a) I make a point of steering clear of current events, seeing as there are simply too many things that could be written about, b) the Baugur case is simply too complex to be able to do it justice in this blogspace – and too interesting to just skim over.
THE STORY OF BAUGUR
Once upon a time, in that distant year 1988, there was a man named Jóhannes Jónsson, who found himself unemployed. He was 48 years old and had worked for the South Iceland Slaughter Association for virtually all of his adult life. But instead of throwing in the towel and declaring himself a lost cause [being as he was of a rather unmarketable age] he decided to start Iceland’s first discount supermarket. Bónus.
Bónus was a runaway success. Jóhannes and his son Jón Ásgeir were clever and introduced new business practices and within three years had five Bónus stores throughout Iceland. They then branched out to the Faroe Islands, then the US, changed the company’s name to Baugur, and withdrew from the US in order to focus on making inroads into the UK.
Long story short: Now, 17 years later, Baugur owns UK High Street chains Iceland, Booker, Hamleys, Woodward, Goldsmiths, MK One, Jane Norman, The Shoe Studio, Oasis, Karen Millen, Coast and Whistles, in addition to having substantial interests in other major UK chains. In Denmark they have recently bought that country’s major department store chains, Magasin du Nord, and Illum. They also own half of Iceland [Including – FYI – Penis Mall aka Smáralind].
Again, this story is unfortunately too long and complex to fully do it justice here. Suffice it to say that the owners of Baugur appear to many to be the Icelandic version of Russia’s Mikhail Khordokovski. After a two-year investigation into supposed financial misconduct, they were indicted on 40 counts of fraud and embezzlement this summer. Both the raid on their offices and the timing of the indictments are suspicious – they came at extremely delicate times for the company, thwarting takeover bids, etc. The Baugur team has always maintained their innocence and claimed that the charges against them were politically motivated, and certainly there was widespread suspicion that this was so. After all, Baugur had threatened and then helped dismantle the old power structures that most people thought would never, ever crumble.
What has come to light this weekend seems to support this theory – there were stolen e-mails that passed between some very powerful individuals in this community, dirty talk like ‘make sure you remove my fingerprints from this’ etc. and all of it points indeed to widespread conspiracy. Meanwhile, Fréttablaðið – which dropped the bombs – is owned by Baugur and has been one of the weapons in this war of power, effectively toppling the main mouthpiece of the ruling Independence Party – Morgunblaðið – over the past couple of years. And it is from within the Independence Party that all this ill-will is purported to spring – and the [very powerful] editor of Morgunblaðið is one of the Main Players in this weekend’s drama.
Incidentally, last week the district court threw out the 40 charges against Baugur because they were ill prepared and basically a fiasco. Note bene, we are talking an investigation that the District Commissioner of the Icelandic Police had been working on for a full two years and which had cost millions of kronur of the taxpayer’s money. An appeal to the Supreme Court is pending. And now we, The People of Iceland, have this weekend’s revelations to digest, with the heavy stones they have turned over and the creepy-crawlies underneath.
Whoever said there was no corruption in Iceland was plainly wrong.
AS FOR THE WEATHER
It certainly pales in comparison to all this! Let’s just say that winter is here. It was absolutely freezing today [though it looked beautiful enough from inside] with windchill bringing temps down to way below zero. The mountains all around Reykjavík are white with snow. Right now temps are 3°C and there’s still lots of wind, and daybreak was at 06.32, nightfall at 20.05.