Following are excerpts of the interview with Baugur CEO, Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, published on Saturday in Baugur-owned daily Fréttabladid.
Hostility of the former prime minister created the atmosphere that has driven both the investigation and the charges in the Baugur case forward, says Baugur CEO Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson. He says that he has always had the best interest of the company in mind and that Baugur has always “won” in its dealings with Gaumur.
Jón Ásgeir vehemently denies all charges and says that explanations concerning the business activities related to the charges were not listened to. He believes that the investigators were determined to find criminal acts committed by company employees.
The interview starts off with the interviewer, Haflidi Helgason, pointing out that 19 of the charges involve transactions between Baugur and parties related to Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson. He asks Jón Ásgeir whether something out of the ordinary was happening? “No, definitely not,” replies Jón Ásgeir, we have shown that the transactions between the companies were related to business and all paid, for example when the company was raided. ”
“Breach of fiduciary duty is when someone cheats someone who he or she represents and that person losses. The main issue is that Baugur always got what people believed they were buying and all the purchases turned out for the good for Baugur. ”
When asked about the breach of fiduciary duty charges that claim the highest amounts, charges relating to Voruvelta, owner of convenience store 10/11, and the dealings concerning stock in Arcadia, Jón Ásgeir defends himself and the business practises used in complicated detail. The bottom line is everything was done to secure business for Baugur.
We use Gaumur, for example in the Arcadia deal, as a front runner for our business. Gaumur took the risk for a public company. Gaumur bought for ISK 900 million in Arcadia because the board of Baugur did not want to take such a big risk at the time. I, as the owner of Gaumur, was certain that this was a good deal and was ready to take the risk myself. When it later was clear that Arcadia was doing well the stock went to Baugur and Baugur got most of the profit from it. If Gaumur had kept its share it would have profited ISK 5 – 6 billion.
When asked if Baugur has always “won” in dealings with Gaumur, Jón Ásgeir says, “Yes, Baugur has always profited!….When you own a company you are not thinking about making a short term personal gain. I have chosen to look at the big picture and what drives me is to take care of the company, build it up and take the dividends later…..When I am building up a company I am not trying to cheat it …I think it is incredible to look past the fact that Baugur has always profited in all business with Gaumur. That must be the core of the issue.”
Jón says the police show great unfairness in treatment relating to transactions concerning both Baugur accounts and loans. “We have answered this many times. It is incredibly distasteful how it is laid out. Nowhere is it mentioned that everything was always paid back on a regular basis.”
When asked about the instigator of the initial investigation, Jón Gerald Sullenberger, Jón Ásgeir asks if all al the communication with Jón Gerald Sullenberger is so incriminating why isn’t he being charged?
Jón Ásgeir says that they believed it was best to delist the company. It was impossible to have to announce to the stock exchange each time when the police asked for files.
Jón says that the beginning of the investigation was terribly timed for the company . “There are too many coincidences in this case [for things not to be connected]. In my mind it is clear that this is orchestrated,” says Jón Ásgeir.
When asked who is orchestrating the case, Jón Ásgeir answers, “the mood is somewhat in charge – it was created in 2001- 2002 with relentless attacks by the then prime minister David Oddsson on the company and his threats to break it up. David threatened [Baugur chairman] Hreinn Loftsson that officials would wage war against the company.”
“If Baugur had gotten Arcadia, it is obvious that we would have become by far the largest company in Iceland. A company that would have profited more than all of Iceland’s fishing industry. It is obvious that many felt threatened by this and many were also threatened because we were the new owners of the Frettabladid. Yes, there was politics in this case, that is for sure. ”
Jón Ásgeir continues to make accusations against David Oddsson.
“The chief leaders of the country have confirmed what David was saying abut us last year when the media bill was being discussed.” Jón Ásgeir continues to say that David walked around town and “told everyone who wanted to listen that we were the biggest tax swindlers in the history of Iceland. I have gotten this confirmed from two ministers in the current government”.
Jón Ásgeir says that money is not his driving force. He says that Baugur has gained incredible recognition overseas and that 80% of all international coverage on Icelandic business life is on Baugur.
“It is strange that it is possible to attack people even though no one claims to have suffered damage and thereby keep them hostage for three years. For these three years we have been under relentless attack because of this investigation. There has been daily coverage in the media in Britain and the Nordic Region. It causes terrific stress and is in of itself one of the severest forms of punishment that one can experience. It is indefensible to violate people’s human rights in this way. We are also human even though we have some money and own some media companies.”
Similar to his father he concludes the interview by saying he would like to thank all of those who have shown him and his family support in the past few weeks.