By Paul Nathan
It’s still hard to believe – even when an old Russian Oligarch explicitly states it to SKY News – that Iceland was the laundry of choice for Russian ‘investment’ money on its way to Europe.
Rumours have been swirling for years, and now that the Icelandic banking system has imploded and under investigation, the truth will eventually find its way to the surface.
The handling of the Icelandic banks has been a disaster from the outset. The Government advertising jobs to replace the principals, without consulting or notifying the principals; complete lack of transparency and evidently co-ordination. It seems that the three principle nationalised lenders – Glitnir, Kaupthing & Landsbanki – have all been fighting their ‘corners’ to take charge of Baugur assets, rather than a coordinated and focussed government effort.
It all bodes badly, and is compounded by reports in the British media of JAJ hanging out at Londons trendiest hotel – The Sanderson, from which 101 Hotel was cloned – having secured himself a ‘job’ sanctioned by the banks, paying $350k a year, whilst he starts selling other assets reaped from his days of unfettered access to Baugurs mountain of cash
What follows is an excerpt from a Sunday Times article from September 2002, when JAJ – then an aspiring Icelandic Oligarch – was going into business with Philip Green – a new British Oligarch.
At 2.30pm, Green got a call from a reporter. “She told me: ‘your punter’s been nicked’,” he says. Reuters had reported that the Icelandic fraud squad had raided Baugur head office. For all his supposed roughness, Green does not like the whiff of cordite: “I was screaming blue murder. I tried to contact Jon but he had gone fishing in Iceland. I was not amused. We found one of his men and an Icelandic banker.”
Green knew the sins of Baugur, real or imagined, reflected on him. His reputation was on the line.
At about 8pm, Green, Wigley and other advisers had an emergency session at the canteen at BHS in Oxford Street. The scene was surreal: the restaurant was closed and half-lit. The chairs were piled on the tables. The Icelanders came to the glass entrance door. They met the unblinking gaze of a very angry Green. Eventually, he motioned his bodyguard to admit them. One of those present says the dialogue went as follows:
Icelander: “Hello Philip. ..”
Green: “How dare you talk to me like that! How dare you f**king lie to me!”
Icelander: “Sorry Philip. ..”
Green: “Don’t you sorry me! How dare you talk to me! You have left me standing on a ladder that is getting kicked over. I wish I had never met you. I don’t know where Iceland is and I don’t care. So far as I know there are not that many people in Iceland. How unlucky can I be that of the four that I meet, three are under a fraud investigation. While I was finalising a deal with you, you were in the other room talking to the Icelandic fraud squad.”
Last but by no means least is Björgólfur Thor – the damaged Icelandic Oligarch who learnt his trade in the homeland of Oligarchs, having built his initial fortune in St.Petersburg.
As any criminal case will attempt to prove to the jury, there must be Means, Motive, and Opportunity, to convince the jury and secure any conviction.
Means: Björgólfur Thor and his father (Chairman) controlled Landsbanki.
Motive: Access to large amounts of cash.
Opportunity: Björgólfur Thor spent much of his time flying to Russia and Eastern Europe.
All conjecture, but as the layers gradually get peeled away, don’t be surprised if Landsbanki and others were the beneficiaries of large transfers of money from Russia.
And don’t be surprised if these eventually get converted into loans under severe diplomatic pressure, adding yet another layer of burden to the Icelandic taxpayer.