Morgunbladid reported last Friday that Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson, Iceland’s first dollar billionaire, was featured in a cover article in one of the Nordic countries’ foremost business publications, the Swedish Veckans affärer.
Björgólfur Thor, his father, Björgólfur Gudmunsson, and their business partner Magnús Thorsteinsson operated a bottling factory and a brewery in St. Petersburg in Russia in the 1990’s.
According to Morgunbladid, Björgólfur denied ties to the Russian mafia saying that “of course” he and his business partners got various offers from the mafia [when they were in Russia] but were careful not to take the offers. Björgólfur also told Veckans affärer that they had hired a security firm, and that their factory had been guarded by 20 armed guards.
In mid-June, the British daily Guardian wrote a story questioning why Björgólfur Thor and his business associates had emerged unharmed and wealthy from the brewing business in St. Petersburg at the same time two other executives in the business had been murdered.
When asked about the Russian mafia shortly after acquiring his controlling stake in Landsbanki (Morgunbladid, February 16, 2003), Björgólfur Thor said “the most I have heard about it [the mafia] is in Iceland.”
According to Morgunbladid the Veckans affärer interview begins with Björgólfur describing how the police came to arrest his father in 1986 because of his father’s involvement in the Hafskip affair. His father, Björgólfur Gudmundsson, now Chairman of the Board at Landsbanki, was sentenced to 12-months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, after a shipping company under his management went bankrupt in the late eighties.
According to Morgunbladid Björgólfur Thor also told Veckans affärer, “When I went to Russia I thought I’d be there for half a year but I was there for nine. That equaled taking three masters degrees and one doctorate. It was an incredibly good school in economics, business and sociology.”
In March 2005, Björgólfur Thor placed 488th on the Forbes list of world billionaires. His net worth was valued at USD 1.4 billion.
After being selected for the Forbes list, Björgólfur Thor told Swedish paper Dagens Industri that making the list felt similar to “winning an Olympic gold medal” in his field, business.
When Veckans affärer asked Björgólfur Thor about the investment bank he now chairs, Straumur, and its purchase of shares in Icelandic bank Islandsbanki, Björgólfur said that there had not been a power struggle for the bank. “If we were in a battle [for control of Íslandsbanki], don’t you think we would have won? This is simply an investment…if I get into a fight, I go with the mindset to win.” said Björgólfur Thor.