Following are excerpts of the interview with Jóhannes Jónsson, father and busines partner of Baugur CEO Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, published on Saturday in Baugur-owned daily Fréttabladid.
“One of the most incredible days of my life”, a reference to when police first raided Baugur’s office in 2002, reads the headline accompanying the interview with Jóhannes Jónsson, father of Baugur CEO Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson.
Fréttabladid explains that the charges concerning Jóhannes include payments related to a luxury yacht in Florida and invoices connected to former Baugur business partner Jón Gerald Sullenberger. Jóhannes’ violations are categorized under “embezzlement”, and he can anticipate up to a six year jail sentence if he is found guilty. In the interview, he accuses officials of systematic persecution of him, his family and Baugur. Jóhannes maintains his innocence and refers to the “trumped up charges” as “monkey business”.
Jóhannes begins the interview by saying, “I find it far-fetched and not very deep, that after a three year investigation they can not point to any financial losses.”
He accuses the police of turning a deaf ear to their explanations. “The chief of police showed us the courtesy of ignoring both our verbal testimony and the documents that we provided. It is as if this investigation and trumped up charges are aimed at bringing us down and blackening our names.”
Jóhannes details how the police first ransacked Baugur’s offices in 2002, arrested Tryggvi Jónsson and announced that they would arrest Jón Ásgeir once he returned to from London. “I rather expected my death”, says Jóhannes. He continues to say that Jón Ásgeir explained to him that in Britain a police raid was seen as very serious and implied murder or embezzlement of billions of ISK.
Throughout the interview he repeats that the ultimate goal of the investigation and charges is to “take us down”.
Jóhannes says that in other countries the police would not not ransack a company without a prior investigation of many months. He says that “this kind of treatment is only tolerated in a banana republic”.
He describes how Baugur chairman Hreinn Loftsson warned Baugur that the government had something in the works, related to either the police, the tax office or the competition authorities. The warning came after Hreinn met with the then prime minister, Davíd Oddsson, in London.
“I thought that this type of [government action] was only practiced under the rule of Mugabe in Zimbawe or that of similar dictators.” says Jóhannes
When asked if he is innocent, Jóhannes replies “I have never taken anything from anyone that I believe I am guilty of and neither have my children….No one has charged us. No one has lost anything; the shareholders of the company, when it was public, made a good profit from it.”
Jóhannes implies that they did not have the political goodwill other Icelandic businessmen did, “We did not get a David Oddsson or a Halldór Ásgrímsson to sit down at the table with us to solicit support and funds with political means like a certain person did.” Here Jóhannes is most likely referring to Kári Stefánsson, CEO of deCODE Genetics, who has benefited greatly from government support.
When asked how it affects him that he and both of his children are charged on 40 accounts, Jóhannes says that “these have been hellish years to have this hanging over…It is possible that I am bitter. But what parent would not be if some men downtown, who don’t have much to lose, say that these children of mine should go to jail and that they can not defend themselves against the claims. I don’t appreciate this kind of justice. ”
Jóhannes says that they are not giving up, they will look into the possibility of seeking justice before the European Court of Human Rights concerning the circumstances under which the investigation came about.
He also says that they will file a suit to seek restitution for some of the damages undeservedly suffered by Baugur. In filing suit, they will not exclude those officials whom they consider to have acted improperly. Another thing he said they would look into was the connection between the officials who investigated Baugur and those who are prosecuting.
When asked how this affected their reputation within Iceland, Jóhannes says, “as strange as it seems our reputation has not been hurt within Iceland,” he continues, “It’s wonderful, for our family and companies, that the Icelandic nation, except 20-30 individuals, fully support us”.
Jóhannes says that both a book and movie will come out of this ordeal.
He concludes the interview by saying that the 2,500 Baugur employees have shown them trust and given them strength and for this he is “thankful and therefore optimistic”.