Well, the earth has continued to quake here in Iceland today as Fréttablaðið kept emptying out its dirty postal bag containing secret e-mails sent in the strictest confidence between some very powerful individuals about two years ago. [Here’s a valuable lesson: Do not ever think that what you send in an email is private!]
As mentioned yesterday, conspiracy theories have abounded in the Baugur case. It is an open secret in this country that Baugur’s bosses have been at odds [to put it mildly] with Iceland’s charismatic former Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson – who sat in the PM’s seat longer than anyone in history [13 years if I’m not mistaken] and who last year at this time exchanged seats with the leader of the coalition party and became Foreign Minister, and who tomorrow will step down as such and become one of the three geriatric directors of the Central Bank, and who prior to doing so orchestrated a Big Fat Raise for Central Bank directors, and this after pressing legislation through parliament raising his own pension by something like 50%, and so now he’ll be collecting both a pension and his Big Fat Central Bank salary… and oh, it hardly bears thinking about and I can get so furious and this is another reason why I try not to touch current events in this space.
[Incidentally, Davíð Oddsson does not use e-mail. Ever.]
So it was no secret that Baugur’s father-son team and Davíð Oddsson profoundly disliked one another. Most people explained it thus: There was a very powerful group of people in this country that controlled a lot of trade and business and had been dubbed ‘the octopus’ because they extended their tentacles into just about every aspect of the Icelandic commercial sector. These people enjoyed cotton-wool treatment and protection by Independence Party, and the Independence Party surely received some perks in return. [As luck would have it, political parties in Iceland are not required to reveal their accounts.] And it was obvious that ‘the octopus’ was beginning to be threatened by the new and fast-moving business tycoons – led by Baugur Group.
Meanwhile, the mouthpiece of the Independence Party, daily paper Morgunblaðið, ruled the Icelandic media market for decades. It was absolutely invincible. Nothing-but-nothing could touch Morgunblaðið. It collected all the advertising revenues, it formed public opinion, it was solid as rock. That is until Baugur came along and poured money into Fréttablaðið, which was delivered free to your door and which at the time teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. Obviously Baugur was pulling a Silvio Berlusconi and using the paper as a weapon. It did not stop there, however, and soon acquired a large stake in a media corporation [Northern Lights] that ran several television and radio stations.
It was then that Oddsson sprung into action, introducing a bill that would limit media ownership. Before most people could fully grasp what was going on, he had it passed through parliament. There was a massive national outcry, people took to the streets in droves to protest – the entire nation was up in arms. Not that people didn’t agree that such a law was necessary – but sympathies appeared to be on Baugur’s side since it was plain as day that the cannons were aimed precisely in their direction. The President of Iceland rushed home from abroad amidst a constitutional crisis. In an unprecedented move, he vetoed the bill and called a national referendum [this had never before been done in the history of the Republic]. Before the referendum could take place, however, Oddsson and co. withdrew the legislation.
At this time, the raid on Baugur’s offices had already taken place – the raid that resulted in indictments and caused major disruptions for the company, including major losses of revenue, not to mention blows to their reputation. And with the developments of this past weekend, it is out in the open that some of Davíð Oddsson’s closest associates conspired to launch the police investigation. One of the main players is an embittered ex-girlfriend of Jóhannes’s, who seems to have been pulling a whole bunch of strings, and there’s the involvement of an enraged former business partner who became the ‘snitch’ that set off the investigation. There are also references to a man who ‘shall remain unnamed’ – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out his identity.
I harbour no illusions that Baugur and co. are blithe angels – their ‘Robin Hood’ aura has pretty much worn off and for all I know they may very well be guilty of criminal misconduct. What’s scary, though, is if powerful individuals in this very small community are able to manipulate those institutions that are supposed to be protecting freedom and democracy and all the rest to meet their own agenda… Oy Vey!
CUT TO WEATHER CUT TO WEATHER
Stormy [what else?] and around 5°C and it’s getting awfully dark awfully early now. Went for a run earlier along the seashore and it was a struggle, just a put-down-your-head-and-persevere. Daybreak: 06.35, nightfall: 20.01. Sharp.