Long-Detained Suspect in Selfoss Murder Case Claims Innocence

Selfoss - Suðurland - Ölfusá

A man suspected of murdering a woman in Selfoss this spring denies having strangled her, RÚV reports. His attorney believes that the courts are bending the law by keeping the man in extended custody.

Unusual silence

Four months after a woman in her twenties was discovered dead in Selfoss, the cause of her death remains uncertain. The prime suspect claims he found her lifeless, and the man’s attorney argues that the prolonged detention of his client exceeds legal limits.

After the woman was discovered in a private residence in Selfoss on April 27, two stepbrothers, also in their twenties, were initially apprehended. The younger brother was released soon thereafter. An unusual silence has surrounded the investigation, uncommon for murder cases in Iceland, which RÚV suggests owes to the sensitive and ambiguous nature of the investigation.

Suspicious behaviour

As noted by RÚV, the police suspect the older brother of strangling the woman, as evidenced by marks on her neck. Initial autopsy results remain inconclusive, however, and the suspect refutes claims of violence. He alleges that he discovered the woman deceased in the bathroom, attributing her death to drugs.

Authorities question his delay in alerting emergency services; instead, the suspect is to have moved the body, performed CPR, and called his brother over to the house – prior to accompanying him for a car ride. The suspect later conceded his actions were misguided, citing shock and drug influence.

Urgent investigative interests non-existent

Recent updates in the case have solely concerned extensions to the suspect’s custody, now set until the end of the month. As noted by RÚV, this will mark his 18th week in custody, and the investigation is still ongoing. This is notable given that Article 95 of the Criminal Code limits detention to twelve weeks without an indictment, barring urgent investigative needs.

Vilhjálmur H. Vilhjálmsson, the suspect’s attorney, questions the “urgent investigative interests” justifying his client’s prolonged detention. “In my view, they don’t exist,” he stated in an interview with RÚV yesterday. Since assuming the defence role six weeks ago, Vilhjálmur maintained that he had observed no progress in the investigation, expressing concern over potential precedents sidelining the twelve-week rule. Such extensions are notably rare, especially of this magnitude.

When queried about the case’s peculiarities, Vilhjálmur stated: “The final autopsy report is yet to be obtained and there are some letters of request. However, my client can’t influence these outcomes, negating any investigative interests.” Vilhjálmur believes the prolonged detention, framed as investigative advocacy, is a ploy to grant police extended investigation time under the guise of public interest.

Police Officers Seek Anonymity Amid Rising Threats

Metropolitan Police

Officers of the law are advocating for increased anonymity in police reports due to rising threats, with incidents like car vandalism and a notable arson attack on an officer’s vehicle. Fjölnir Sæmundsson, Chair of Iceland’s National Police Union, emphasised the need for regulatory changes in an interview with Vísir.

Unparalleled arson attack

Police officers are pushing for anonymity in police reports due to escalating threats during arrests and interrogations. Incidents include tire punctures, car vandalism, and a recent arson attack on a policewoman’s vehicle outside her residence.

The latter incident, being investigated by the district prosecutor as an offence against the government, could lead to a six-year prison term.

In an interview with Vísir, Fjölnir Sæmundsson, Chair of Iceland’s National Police Union (i.e. Landssamband Lögreglumanna), described the case as nearly unparalleled, highlighting the growing intensity of police duties. According to Vísir, the identity of the suspect in the arson case was “quite obvious.”

Threats to officers’ families

“Over the years, there have been several incidents where tyres have been punctured or cars have been scratched or keyed. Then there is the threat: ‘I know where your children go to school or where your wife works.’ People driving conspicuously past a police officer’s house is not unheard of,” Fjölnir told Vísir.

“There is a great demand for anonymity,” Fjölnir continued. “In police reports, officers are identified by name during interrogations, yet in court, we’re referred to solely by our police number. This inconsistency is concerning, especially when reports bearing our full names are accessible,” Fjölnir stated, pointing out that in order for anonymity in police reports to be guaranteed, regulations needed to be amended. Such an amendment was especially urgent as it related to officers investigating organised-crime cases.

Proactive investigative measures

“We’re well aware that organised groups, with ties to countries like Spain, Brazil, and the Baltic nations, are behind a significant proportion of drug imports to Iceland.” Consequently, officers are now prioritising the proactive investigative measures, which, as noted by Vísir, were outlined in a controversial police bill that failed to pass during the last parliamentary session.

“We aim to gather more intelligence to track individuals entering the country and their activities abroad. This will enhance our collaboration and information exchange with international police agencies,” Fjölnir concluded by saying.

Driving Mum Nominated for Nordic Council Film Prize

Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson

The film Driving Mum has been nominated for this year’s Nordic Council Film Prize. The winner of the prize will be announced on Tuesday, October 31, at the Nordic Council meeting in Oslo.

Winner unveiled on October 31

The Nordic Council Film Prize, established in 2002 and administered by the Nordic Council, honours outstanding full-length feature films rooted in Nordic culture. Films released between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, are eligible, with each of the five Nordic countries nominating one cinema-released, artistically significant film.

The prize, which totals 300,000 Danish kroner ($44,000 / €40,000), is divided equally among the winning film’s screenwriter, director, and producer. The winner will be unveiled on October 31 at the Nordic Council meeting in Oslo.

In a first, a Greenlandic film, Alanngutt Killinganni, directed by Malik Kleist, has been nominated, marking a historic moment for the awards.

A dark, surreal comedy set in the ‘80s

This year’s Icelandic nomination is Hilmar Oddsson’s Driving Mum, a dark, surreal comedy set in 1980. The plot follows Jón, who, after his mother’s death, embarks on a final journey to Eyrarbakki with her remains and the family dog, Bresnef, to fulfil her burial wishes.

The film boasts performances from Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson, Kristbjörg Kjeld, Hera Hilmarsdóttir, and Tómas Lemarquis, and is produced by Hlín Jóhannesdóttir and co-produced by Marianne Ostra.

Past Icelandic winners include Lamb by Valdimar Jóhannsson; Of Horses and Men and Woman at War by Benedikt Erlingsson, and Virgin Mountain by Dagur Kári.

For a list of all the nominees, click here.

Íslandsbanki Loses Large Customers Following Scandal

VR Union, the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), and the Consumers’ Association of Iceland have all discontinued their business with Íslandsbanki as a result of the bank’s mishandling of the sale of public assets last year, Vísir reports. Íslandsbanki admitted to breaching procedure and was sentenced to pay a fine of ISK 1.2 billion [$8.8 million, €8.1 million] the highest of any financial institution in Iceland’s history, for breaking regulations in the sale of a 22.5% stake in the bank in March 2022.

VR and ASÍ each made the decision to leave Íslandsbanki independently, Hjördís Þóra Sigurþórsdóttir, second vice president of ASÍ, told Morgunblaðið. She doubts the bank can make up for the breaches it committed. “We’re talking about public assets in Iceland that are being sold to hand-picked parties for less than they’re worth.”

There have been reports of individual customers also transferring their banking away from Íslandsbanki following the scandal. Íslandsbanki’s new CEO Jón Guðni Ómarsson has stated that he has not noticed a significant drop in the bank’s number of customers.

Background to the sale

In early 2020, Iceland’s government began preparation to sell the state-owned Íslandsbanki in stages. The first partial sale was carried out in June 2021, a successful public stock offering of a 35% stake in the bank. Following that sale, 65% of the bank remained state-owned.

The next stage of the sale took place in March 2022, this time a private stock offering of a 22.5% stake in the bank. Unlike the first offering, it was only open to professional investors. The sale was successful, reducing state ownership in the bank from 65% to 42.5%. The private stock offering was immediately criticised for its lack of transparency and for the discount given to investors despite high demand. As public pressure mounted, the list of investors who took part in the share was published, revealing several who had access to inside information on the sale, such as employees of the consulting company that had been hired to manage the sale as well as the father of Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson.

Justice Minister Proposes Detention Centres for Asylum Seekers

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

Asylum seekers in Iceland whose applications have been rejected will be placed in detention centres if Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir’s proposal is approved by Iceland’s Parliament. In an interview on Kastljós, Guðrún stated she would introduce a bill this autumn to set up detention centres for asylum seekers who have been stripped of housing and services due to new legislation that went into effect last month. Humanitarian organisations have harshly criticised the legislation, which has left many asylum seekers living on the streets.

Guðrún is an MP for the Independence Party and took over the post of Minister of Justice from Jón Gunnarsson two months ago. In the Kastljós interview, she stated that her policy on asylum seekers would emphasise adapting Iceland’s reception of asylum seekers to that of other Schengen countries, which she asserted all had detention centres for asylum seekers whose applications had been rejected.

The centres would “have restrictions,” Guðrún stated, and would constitute housing where “people don’t have full freedom of movement.” She stated that no discussions have yet begun on how Iceland would implement such detention centres and that she could not answer when they would become operational, as “it has to go through Parliament.”

Whaling Has Little Economic Impact on Iceland

hvalur whaling in iceland

Whaling in Iceland has little direct impact on the Icelandic economy. Whaling has not turned a profit in recent years for Hvalur hf., the only company that has been whaling commercially in Iceland in the recent past. While people abroad almost always see Iceland’s participation in whaling in a negative light, those views do not seem to have a measurable negative effect on Iceland’s economy, neither affecting the sale or export of Icelandic goods nor Iceland’s popularity as a tourist destination.

These are the conclusions of a report on the economic impact of whaling in Iceland, written by consulting company Intellecon for the Ministry of Fisheries, Food, and Agriculture. The report only considers whaling’s direct economic impact on Iceland; not biological, regional, or political factors. Neither does it consider the ecological impact of the practice.

Less than 1% of total seafood export

According to data gathered by the report’s authors, the export of whale products has never amounted to more than 0.6% of the total export value of seafood from Iceland – that record was reached in 2016. Despite not being an economically significant industry, however, whaling is important for the individuals it employs, who earn a higher salary whaling and processing whale meat than they would in most other industries. It bears noting, however, that the work is shift work and seasonal, usually lasting four months per year. Around 120 people worked on processing whale meat last season and the average salary of those whaling and processing whale meat was between ISK 1.7-2 million per month [$12,900, €11,800].

Read More: Sea Change

The report details various difficulties in selling whale products due to restrictions and other factors. It mentioned that “It has been difficult to get permission to sell the whale meal, e.g. in feed for pigs, as it has not met the conditions for such use.” While Hvalur hf. has burned whale oil on its ships, “Selling it for other uses has proven impossible, in part due to trade barriers on whale products.”

Hvalur hf. has only hunted fin whales in recent years, and their meat has only been sold to Japan. The consumption of whale meat has decreased rapidly there, from 233,000 tonnes in 1962 to only 1-2,000 tonnes in 2021 and 2022. Transporting whale products has also proven difficult in recent years due to pressure from organisations that campaign against whaling and the reluctance of governments to permit the transport of whale products through their countries. As a result, whale meat from Iceland has been transported to Japan across the northerly route, north of Russia and Siberia. Conditions on the route are difficult and require collaboration with Russian icebreakers.

Future of whaling decided this month

While people abroad view Iceland’s whaling in a negative light, the report did not find that these views had any negative economic impact that could be measured. They neither made it more difficult to sell Icelandic products abroad nor did they reduce Iceland’s popularity as a tourist destination.

Iceland’s Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir implemented a temporary ban on whaling on June 20, the day before the whaling season was set to begin. The ban expires at the end of August. Svandís has stated that a decision on the continuation of the controversial practice will be made public before the end of the month.