This weekend Baugur-owned Fréttabladid published numerous emails, acquired from an anonymous source, connecting leading members of the Independence Party and the Social Democratic Alliance Party to the Baugur case.
Baugur CEO Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson has long maintained that the Baugur case was politically motivated.
The uproar began Saturday morning when Fréttabladid broke a story linking three Independence Party insiders to the Baugur case. They are Styrmir Gunnarsson, longtime editor of the Morgunbladid, a daily known for its pro-Independence Party stance; the chief executive of the Independence Party, Kjartan Gunnarsson; and a recently appointed Supreme Court Judge, Jón Steinar Gunnlaugsson, a close friend of David Oddsson’s, and also the lawyer of Jón Gerald Sullenberger.
It was Jón Sullenberger’s testimony to the Icelandic police in August 2002 that provoked the initial investigation into the affairs of Jón Ásgeir and Baugur.
According to emails between Jón Ásgeirs’s father’s former girlfriend, Jónína Benediktsdóttir, to Styrmir Gunnarsson, the three Independence Party members met in June 2002 to discuss the allegations made by Jón Gerald Sullenberger about the business practices of Baugur’s senior managers. Two months later Jón Steinar filed charges on behalf of Jón Gerald against Baugur managers with the Icelandic police.
In an email from Styrmir to Jónína, sent June 2002, Styrmir writes: “”You don’t have to worry about Jón Steinar. He is a completely solid man. When I talked about this with Jón Steinar, I had Kjartan [Gunnarsson] on hand. This is as wrapped up and anointed as anything can be. I don’t know the relationship between Jón Steinar and Tryggvi [former Baugur CEO] but I will check it out. But it does not matter who Jón Steinar knows. His loyalty to an unnamed man is sealed and unwavering and therefore you and Jón Gerald don’t have to have any worries.”
The “unnamed man” has not been identified but many believe him to be former prime minister Davíd Oddsson.
On May 8th, Jónína writes Styrmir an email describing Jón Gerald’s state of mind: “He is so mad at the [Baugur] father and son that he would most like to kill them […] Someone needs to talk to the boy and calm him down so he does not feel guilty. Styrmir, do you think Davíd would call him? I think that would be best.”
Styrmir denies having direct contact with former prime minister Davíd Oddsson regarding the matter. Jónína told television station Stöd 2, that although she sent Davíd an email, his assistant returned it with a message saying that Davíd did not involve himself in these kinds of issues.
Fréttabladid also reported that Styrmir asked a reporter from Morgunbladid to translate a letter in English into Icelandic for Jón Gerald. In an email to Jónína, Styrmir says “Can I ask you to erase the fingerprints of Morgunbladid from this document and send it to Jón Gerald? As you know, I don’t know how to.”
Jónína in turn told Icelandic media that she had shared her story with numerous influential Icelanders including chairman of the Social Democratic Alliance Party, Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir and Björgólfur Guðmundsson, chairman of Landsbanki, and father of Iceland’s first dollar billionaire.
After the story broke on Saturday the Icelandic media was flooded with news releases from the various parties involved.
In an attempt to explain his involvement, Kjartan Gunnarsson, chief executive of the Independence Party, wrote that he and Styrmir were linked through “very close personal and family ties”.
Styrmir published his side of the story in the paper he edits, Morgunbladid, saying that he was only seeking Kjartan’s advice on the competence of Jón Steinar. In the same article, Styrmir also writes that Jón Steinar performed legal work for Morgunbladid for a number of years.
Jónína Benediktsdóttir explained that she became involved in the case because she wanted to assist Jón Gerald who was in dire financial straits. She said the reason she called Styrmir was to ask him to recommend a lawyer.
Jónína also told the media that, in the first half of 2002, she discussed the Baugur matter with many people including chairman of the Social Democratic Alliance Party, Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir; Social Democratic Alliance Party mayoral candidate Stefán Jón Hafstein; chairman of Landsbanki Björgólfur Gudmundsson; and the news editor of television station Stöd 2 Sigmundur Ernir Rúnarsson.
Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, who told the Icelandic media last week that those in power had issued a “hunting license” on Baugur and the individuals involved in the case, confirmed that she and Stefán Jón Hafsteinn, had had dinner with Jónína at Jónína’s house.
Jónína said that Ingibjörg Sólrún encouraged her to seek legal advice.
A spokesperson for Björgólfur Gudmundsson, chairman of Landsbanki, said that Björgólfur did not remember specific conversations with Jónína. He said that Jónína had often “sought assistance from Björgólfur”.
Jóhannes Jónsson, father and business partner of Baugur CEO Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, said that it was now evident, what he had said from the beginning, that the charges were movitvated by political reasons.
Baugur CEO Jón Ásgeir said it did not surprise him that Kjartan and Jón Steinar were involved but Styrmir’s involvement came as a shock.
According to reports in today’s Fréttabladid it seems that Jónína was eager to offer Styrmir advice on what to publish in Morgunbladid. In an email, dated July 31, she asked Styrmir to interview Jón Gerald and get him to “talk”. Jónína also indirectly asks Styrmir to publish a “price survey that shows that Europris [Baugur’s competitor in the retail food market in Iceland] offers lower prices [than Baugur owned stores]”.
Yesterday, Jónína insinuated to the media that her personal email had been “stolen”. Her email was stored on a server run by telco Og Vodafone, and she thinks it is most likely that someone copied her emails from the server. Baugur is the controlling shareholder of Og Vodafone.
Og Vodafone denied these charges and said in a press release that Jónína’s charges were serious and the company would review its “legal options”.
Geir Haarde, deputy chairman of the Independence Party said that it was neither his business, nor the business of the Independence Party, that Kjartan Gunnarsson, chief executive of the Independence Party, had talked to Jón Steinar and Styrmir before charges were filed in the Baugur case.
Arnar Jensson, a senior officer at the Office of the National Commissioner of Police, said that the information published in Fréttabladid about the events leading to the charges being filed against Baugur did not concern the police in any way nor would it influence the progress of the case.