At the same time as former prime minister Davíd Oddsson spoke of “cartels that lay their hands on everything” in his final speech as chairman of the Independence Party, the investment bank Straumur-Burdarás announced the purchase of a significant stake of Árvakur, the publisher of the daily Morgunbladid. Together with an “un-named investor”, Straumur-Burdarás purchased one third of Árvakur.
Straumur-Burdarás is part of one of Iceland’s most powerful business blocks often linked to three Icelanders who purchased a controlling stake Landsbanki in 2002 from Oddsson’s government during the final and controversial phase of the privatization of the former state-owned banks Landsbanki and Búnadarbanki; one of the three, Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson, now serves as chairman of Straumur-Burdarás.
The shares in Árvakur were purchased from Kristinn Björnsson, husband of the former minister of justice and the current speaker of Althingi, Sólveig Pétursdóttir (Independence Party). Björnsson was previously the CEO of Skeljungur, the local distributor of Shell Oil. In 2004, an investigation by Icelandic competition authorities revealed that as CEO of Skeljungur Björnsson participated in a price fixing arrangement with two other oil distributors. Björnsson and his family still own 25% of Árvakur; he sits on the board of Straumur-Burdarás.
Since acquiring the government’s controlling stake in Landsbanki in 2002, Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson, his father Björgólfur Gudmundsson, and their St. Petersburg business partner, Magnús Thorsteinsson, have relentlessly pursued takeovers of various Icelandic companies, both friendly and hostile. The threesome now have influence or control over many of the largest companies in Iceland including Landsbanki, Íslandsbanki, Marel, investment bank Straumur-Burdarás, shipping company Eimskip, generic drug manufacturer Actavis, the aviation company Avion, fisheries company Icelandic Group and the publishing firm Edda.
In an interview with Forbes Magazine, after placing on the Forbes List of World Billionaires, Björgólfur Thor said he had “no interest in making enemies, particularly in a country that he [was] outgrowing.” According to Forbes, Björgólfur Thor said, “I don’t want to be seen as too powerful in Iceland.”