Iceland’s former prime minister has rejected charges he failed to protect his country’s economy from financial shocks as the first world leader to go on criminal trial over the 2008 financial crisis.
“I reject all accusations, and believe there is no basis for them,” Geir Haarde said from the dock. He said it was the first chance he had to answer questions in the case.
Haarde became a symbol of the bubble economy for Icelanders who lost their jobs and homes after the country’s main commercial banks collapsed in 2008, sending its currency into a nosedive and inflation soaring.
Prosecutors opened the case at the Landsdomur, a special court being convened for the first time in Iceland’s history.
Part of their case hinges on a charge that Haarde failed to implement recommendations a government committee had drawn up in 2006 to strengthen Iceland’s economy. Haarde told the court that the committee’s work could not have prevented Iceland’s economic crash.
“Nobody predicted that there would be a financial collapse in Iceland” in 2008, he said, adding that the government did not fully understand how much debt the country’s banks had on their books.
Haarde is accused of negligence for failing to prevent the financial implosion from which the small island country is still struggling to recover.
In the crisis’ immediate aftermath – as unemployment and inflation skyrocketed – many sought someone to blame for the havoc across the 330,000-strong nation. A wave of public protests forced Haarde out of government in 2009.
Haarde has pleaded not guilty and sought to have all charges dismissed, calling the proceedings “preposterous.” He has insisted Icelanders’ interests were his “guiding light,” and blamed the banks for the crisis, saying government officials and regulatory authorities tried their best to prevent the crisis and that his “conscience is clear.”
The trial is expected to last until mid-March, with the court taking another four to six weeks to deliver its verdict.
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