Lawsuit Challenges Þjórsá Hydropower Plant

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson

Eleven landowners by Þjórsá river in South Iceland have sued the government, demanding that a license for Hvammsvirkjun hydropower plant be revoked.

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, minister of the environment, energy, and climate, is surprised and disappointed by the suit, RÚV reports. He said it would delay the project and go against the national interest.

Confident in the project going forward

The proposed hydro project would create a 4 square kilometre reservoir [1.5 square miles] and have an estimated capacity of 95 MW. Guðlaugur Þór said that he remained confident that the hydro plant would be build, despite the lawsuit.

“It’s disappointing that these parties are using loopholes to delay things and it will impact us all,” the minister said. “This has been in the works since 2015 and we need the green energy. And I have to say it like it is, that even if they found loopholes in the regulatory and legal framework, they should also take the national interest into account.”

Damage to the ecosystem

Guðlaugur Þór added that it was important to use domestic electricity instead of imported petrol. He argued that the hydro plant was important for Iceland’s vision in energy policy.

The landowners have argued that the hydro plant will be damaging for the environment, for the local ecosystem and for the salmon population.

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Hvalur Files Claim Against Icelandic State Over Whaling Ban

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

The whaling company Hvalur hf. has filed a claim against the Icelandic state, citing significant financial losses due to a temporary whaling ban imposed by the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir last year. The claim, supported by the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s conclusion that the ban lacked legal basis, seeks compensation for the company and its employees.

A right to claim damages

The whaling company Hvalur hf. has filed a claim against the Icelandic state, asserting that the decision to temporarily ban the hunting of fin whales last year — which was made by Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir — had resulted in substantial revenue loss and financial expenditures, RÚV reports.

The claim was sent to the State’s Attorney after the Parliamentary Ombudsman concluded that the decision by the Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries to temporarily suspend whaling last year was not legally sound; Svandís’s ban took effect on June 20, 2023, and remained in place until September 1 of the same year.

In line with the Ombudsman’s findings

The claim begins by noting that Hvalur hf. had lodged a complaint with the Parliamentary Ombudsman regarding the drafting and implementation of regulation that barred the start of whaling in the summer of 2023. The claim subsequently cites the Ombudsman’s opinion on the matter, wherein the former concluded that the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries lacked a sufficiently clear legal basis for the regulation to be considered valid.

In light of this, Hvalur hf. believes it has a right to claim damages from the Icelandic state for any financial losses incurred due to the ban. The claim acknowledges that any costs saved while the ban was active, particularly in labour expenses, should be considered for deduction.

The claim further notes that the Akranes Trade Union (Verkalýðsfélag Akraness) had declared that the employees of Hvalur had wage claims against the company for the period during which the ban was in effect. Similarly, the Association of Ship Captains (Félag skipstjórnamanna) voiced the same position for its union members.

Therefore, Hvalur considers it most practical for the Icelandic state to compensate the company’s employees and other affected parties in line with their income losses. The claim also asks for talks with the Icelandic state to settle this compensation based on the stated reasons.

Third-party assessment

Lastly, the claim suggests that the Icelandic state and Hvalur could agree on a third party to evaluate the company’s damages through an out-of-court expert assessment. However, this agreement would not be legally binding for either Hvalur or the Icelandic state.

Speaker’s Committee Must Publish Contested Report

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

A report related to the sale of public assets that has been shrouded in secrecy will now likely be made public, thanks to a two-year-old legal opinion, RÚV reports. The Speaker’s Committee of Parliament is required to hand over a report made by the Auditor General in 2018 on the dealings of Lindarhvoll ehf., a private limited company created to sell public assets acquired by the state in the aftermath of the banking collapse. An ongoing lawsuit asserts Lindarhvoll did not get the best possible price for the public assets it sold.

Report’s author calls for its publication

The legal opinion in question was carried out for the Speaker’s Committee over two years ago by law firm Magna but was only made public last week. According to RÚV, the committee decided to make the 2018 report public in April of last year, but Speaker of Parliament and Independence Party MP Birgir Ármannsson has stood in the way. Birgir asserts that the articles pertaining to freedom of information do not apply to the report as it is an internal document that was never meant for the public.

The report’s author, then-Auditor General Sigurður Þórðarson, has called for it to be made public. Opposition MPs have also called for its publication.

Committee members never received copy of report

Lindarhvoll was founded by the Finance Ministry in 2016 to handle assets acquired by the government after Iceland’s banking collapse, worth up to ISK 100 billion [$708 million, €664 million]. In 2018, when the assets had been sold, Lindarhvoll was dissolved and Sigurður’s report was submitted to the Speaker’s Committee. Nevertheless, committee members never received a copy of the report and were only permitted to look at it in a closed room, without their phones or any writing implements.

Lawsuit against Lindarhvoll ongoing

In 2020, Frigus II ehf. sued Lindarhvoll and the Icelandic state for ISK 651 million [$4.6 million, €4.3 million] due to the sale of Klakka ehf. (previous called Exista) to another company. According to Frigus, the company’s purchase offer for Klakka ehf. was rejected in favour of an offer that did not fulfil the conditions of the sale. If that assertion proves true, it would mean Lindarhvoll did not necessarily act in the public’s best interest in the sale of public assets. Other internal documents from Lindarhvoll have been handed over to Frigus II in the ongoing case.

The ties between Frigus and Klakka go beyond the sale that is the lawsuit’s focus. Frigus II is owned by Sigurður Valtýsson, who is the former CEO of Exista, as well as brothers Ágúst and Lýður Guðmundsson, who had a 45% stake in Exista before the banking collapse through their company Bakkavör.

Whether and when the 2018 report on Lindarhvoll will be published has yet to be determined.

Iceland: Internal Documents May Shed Light on Sale of Public Assets

Iceland's Althing

Lindarhvoll, a company founded to handle public assets following the banking collapse, must hand over a 37-page internal report on its dealings, the Prime Ministry’s Information Committee (Úrskurðarnefnd um upplýsingamál) has ruled. Opposition MPs have demanded the publication of other internal documents from the company that pertain to the sale of public assets that fell into state hands due to the banking collapse. The document is expected to shed light on whether the company in fact sold public assets at the best possible price. RÚV reported first.

Read More: Opposition MPs Demand Access to Banking Collapse Related Report

Lindarhvoll was founded by the Finance Ministry in 2016 to handle assets acquired by the government after Iceland’s banking collapse. In 2020, Frigus II ehf. sued Lindarhvoll and the Icelandic state for ISK 651 million [$4.6 million, €4.3 million] due to the sale of Klakka ehf. to another company. According to Frigus, the company’s purchase offer for Klakka ehf. was rejected in favour of an offer that did not fulfil the conditions of the sale. If that assertion proves true, it would mean Lindarhvoll did not necessarily act in the public’s best interest in the sale of public assets.

Internal data handed over

Opposition MPs have been calling for a 2018 internal report from Lindarhvoll to be made public, but despite pressure, it remains an internal document. Last Monday, the governing majority also voted against permitting MPs to submit questions about Lindarhvoll in parliament, leading Social-Democratic MP Jóhann Páll Jóhannsson to ask “What is it that the public is not allowed to see?”

The ruling made by the Information Committee does not concern the 2018 report, but other internal documents from Lindarhvoll: a 37-page report and memoranda on Lindarhvoll written by the law firm MAGNA for the Speaker’s Committee of Parliament. These documents will now be handed over to Frigus, as per the ruling.

Supreme Court Takes Up Slayer Suit Against Secret Solstice Festival

slayer lawsuit secret solstice iceland

Iceland’s Supreme Court has accepted an appeal by American thrash metal band Slayer against the organisers of the Secret Solstice festival.

Slayer performed at the 2018 festival and allege that they were never paid for their performance.

In a 2020 ruling, organisers of Secret Solstice were ordered by a Reykjavík district court to pay a sum of ISK 20 million (USD 138,900; EUR 143,800) to Slayer. Despite some ambiguity in communications regarding the payment, it was determined that Slayer should be compensated with the personal assets of the organisers.

Read more: Former Secret Solstice Organiser Bankrupt

However, earlier this year, the decision was revisited by the National Court, which then acquitted Live Events, the former organisers.

With the former organisers in bankruptcy, representatives from Slayer have claimed that assets were misused during the bankruptcy, and that there is precedent for payment obligation in such cases. After the festival’s bankruptcy, it was sold to several different legal entities. Confusion arose after public statements by one of the directors of Live Events, which claimed that all debts would be settled. Now, the Supreme Court of Iceland is taking up the case.

Central to the case is whether the statement in question was general in nature, or whether it constituted a binding contract.

The Supreme Court has taken up the case partly because it believes that the case will have broader importance in setting precedent in cases of payment obligation with multiple debtors.

Five Seafood Companies Withdraw From Lawsuit Against Icelandic State

Fishing Harbour

Five seafood companies have decided to withdraw from a joint lawsuit against the Icelandic state due to a dispute over the allocation of mackerel quotas between 2011-2018, RÚV reports. Seven companies had decided to jointly sue the state, demanding over ISK 10 billion ($69.6 million/€63.9 million) in compensation. A statement from the five companies says the decision was made due to the impact COVID-19 will have on the Icelandic treasury.

Eskja, Gjörgur, Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja, Loðnuvinnslan, and Skinney-Þinganes are the five companies that have dropped out of the joint lawsuit. A statement from Supreme Court Attorney Sigurbjörn Magnússon on behalf of the five companies says the COVID-19 pandemic will have a profound effect on Iceland’s treasury and the entire Icelandic community.

“Widespread solidarity and mettle have characterised the community in the past weeks and months. Now everyone needs to work together,” the statement reads. “For this reason, the five undersigned fishing companies have decided to waive their claims against the Icelandic state.”

The seven companies (the final two being Vinnslustöðin and Huginn ehf.) filed the lawsuit last year, claiming that the state’s mackerel quota distribution between 2011-2018 was based on incorrect information and led to losses for the companies. Two Supreme Court rulings in 2018 recognised the state’s liability for damages Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja and Huginn ehf. believed to have incurred due to how the quota was distributed between 2011-2014.

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson stated earlier this week that he was optimistic the state would win the case, but in the unlikely situation that it did not, the damages would not be paid using tax money, rather would be financed via the fishing industry itself.

Sues State for Additional Compensation in Infamous Case

Guðmundur og Geirfinnur case Supreme court

Kristján Viðar Júlíusson, one of five who was acquitted by the Supreme Court in Iceland’s most infamous disappearance case, has sued the Icelandic state for ISK 1.4 billion ($11.1m/€10.1m) in compensation, RÚV reports. Kristján Viðar was one of five individuals acquitted in 2018 after the so-called Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case was reopened. The lawsuit will be filed in Reykjavík District Court this Thursday.

Kristján considers he has the right to receive compensation because he was wrongfully convicted guilty for nearly 40 years, as well as serving a prison sentence of 7.5 years. Kristján is the second of the case’s plaintiffs to sue the state: Guðjón Skarphéðinsson has done so as well, demanding ISK 3 billion ($23.8m/€21.7m) in compensation. Of the five wrongfully sentenced, only Sævar Ciesielski spent more time in prison than Kristján Viðar.

The state awarded compensation to the three living defendants in the case at the end of last month, as well as to the spouses and children of the two deceased. Kristján has now sued the state demanding to be paid the difference between the amount he originally demanded and the amount he received.

When asked about Guðjón’s lawsuit, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated: “ Of course, it’s always difficult to put a price on such things and that will really never be done. These kinds of things will never be fixed with money. But of course we understand if people want to go to court and seek further justice.” Guðjón’s lawyer Ragnar Aðalsteinsson has argued that compensation for the plaintiffs should be higher. “High compensation has a range of effects. It is part of the pardon, but also acts as a restraint on police and judicial authorities in the future, to be more careful than they have been in this case, in the hope that something like this won’t repeat itself in the coming years and decades.”

The Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case is one of the most notorious cases in Icelandic criminal history. Read more about the case.

Importers Sue Icelandic Government

Five import companies are calling on the Icelandic government to reimburse them for import tariffs they paid on agricultural products, Fréttablaðið reports. The companies are claiming ISK 3 billion ($28m/€24m) in reimbursements, and an additional ISK 1 billion ($9m/€8m) in interest payments.

Páll Rúnar M. Kristjánsson, supreme court judge and lawyer for the Icelandic Federation of Trade, is representing the companies. The lawyer has won similar cases against the government in recent years for members of the Icelandic Federation of Trade. He says the bill will continue to grow as long as the government keeps collecting the illegal tariffs. Iceland’s system of giving ministers the power to impose taxes in the form of import tariffs is unconstitutional, Páll says. He hopes to receive a ruling in the District Court of Reykjavík before the end of the year.

Ólafur Stephensen, Secretary General of the Icelandic Federation of Trade, says it’s both illegal and unwise to assign ministers the power to decide on agricultural import tariffs. They can have a doubly negative effect on the consumer, he asserts, both by raising the prices of imported products, and making it possible for domestic producers to sell their products at higher prices. “If it were generally justified to protect domestic production with tariffs then that production would have to meet demand. Here there are import tariffs on many types of food products that are not even produced in Iceland. One has to ask what interests are being protected by that,” Ólafur stated.

Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Reform Party Chairperson and former Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, says the lawsuit is a sign that it is time to switch up the system. “There is a pressing need to re-evaluate the agricultural industry and nobody needs to be afraid of that,” Þorgerður Katrín stated. “It’s possible to support farmers in other ways than protecting them with import tariffs.” The politician called protective tariffs “an old-fashioned approach,” saying her party supports a free and open market.

Pharmaceutical Company Protests Use of Drug in Death Sentences

Pharmaceutical company Alvogen is spearheading a lawsuit objecting to the use of their drugs in the execution of a prisoner in Nevada. The company, whose lawsuit has been joined by Hikma Pharmaceuticals, also alleges that Nevada obtained the drugs for inmate Scott Raymond Dozier improperly.

Alvogen is an American pharmaceutical company founded by Icelander Vilhelm Róbert Wessman in 2009 with operations in Iceland since 2010. The company’s European headquarters are located in Reykjavík, and the company’s website states “a large part of the group’s global key managers are Icelanders.”

Nevada law states capital punishment should be carried out by lethal injection. Alvogen, however, have objected to the use of their sedative midazolam in the state’s executions. The Nevada Supreme Court has argued that the lawsuit is “part of a guerrilla war against the death penalty,” while Deputy Solicitor General Jordan T. Smith called it a “public relations wave.”

Dozier, 47, has said he wants the sentence to be carried out rather than spend his life in prison.

Icelandic media has picked up on the case, which has been making headlines in the United States. Read more about the case in English.

Conservationists Sue Whaling Company

Wildlife and nature conservation organization Jarðarvinir has sued whaling company Hvalur hf. for the violation of whaling laws, Vísir reports. Ragnar Aðalsteinsson, Jarðarvinir’s attorney, says he believes Hvalur hf. broke the law and violated their whaling licence by killing a hybrid whale last June. “The hunting licence is limited to fin whales. There is no exception from that in the hunting licence or anywhere else. We believe it’s worthwhile to try to determine whether it is punishable to hunt a whale though it is a hybrid, if it cannot be considered a fin whale,” Ragnar stated.

Hvalur hf. was the subject of controversy in June when it was believed they had killed a blue whale. Genetic analysis later determined the animal in question was a rare fin/blue whale hybrid. The company’s licence only applies to hunting fin whales. Though hunting of blue whales is illegal in Iceland, there is no legislation specifically protecting hybrid whales.

In the lawsuit, Jarðarvinir also asserts that Hvalur hf. has not complied with regulations governing their operations between June 2010 and May of this year. Fréttablaðið reported earlier this week that the company has never followed strict rules on whale meat processing which came into effect in 2010 but were relaxed by Minister of Fisheries Kristján Þór Júlíusson earlier this year. The regulations required the company to slaughter whales indoors and as soon as they are brought onto land, a process it did not carry out.

Ragnar also questions whether the minister of fisheries was permitted to change regulations on whale meat processing at the beginning of the summer, as such regulations are usually governed by an international regulatory framework. “It’s a question of whether there is permission anywhere to grant an exemption from those regulations by a government decision.”