Jonasson: Haarde’s Impeachment was Unjust!

Geir H. Haarde speaks. Gissurarson and Jonasson listen. Photo: Bjorn Bjarnason.

The impeachment in 2012 of former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde for negligence in and before the 2008 Icelandic bank collapse was unjust, former Justice Minister Ogmundur Jonasson argued at a meeting in Reykjavik 16 January, organised by the Institute of Public Administration and Politics at the University of Iceland. Jonasson, formerly one of the leaders of the Left Green Party, had been one of the members of parliament who had voted to indict Haarde. He later changed his mind and supported an unsuccessful parliamentary attempt to withdraw the indictment. He was commenting on a recent book, Landsdomsmalid, by Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson on the impeachment process against Haarde where the author argued that it had been seriously flawed. While the specially convened Impeachment Court acquitted Haarde of all serious charges, the majority convicted him of having violated the stipulation in the Icelandic Constitution that important issues should be discussed at cabinet meetings. Indeed, Haarde had never formally put the problems of the banks on the agenda of cabinet meetings. In his book, Gissurarson argued, with the minority of the Impeachment Court, that this constitutional stipulation was by its origin and nature only a formal requirement to bring up at cabinet meetings issues which subsequently had to be sent to the Head of State for acceptance, originally the Danish King with whom Iceland had been in a personal union until 1944, and after that the President of the Republic.

Gissurarson also discussed in his book cases when important issues had not been put on the agenda of cabinet meetings, such as negotiations in 1956 between Iceland and the United States on defence matters and the decision in 2003 by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister to support the United States and the United Kingdom in taking military action against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In his talk, Jonasson added another example from the time he was Justice Minister: It was never discussed at cabinet meetings that Iceland, as a NATO member, supported the military action the alliance took in 2011 against Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi.

Gissurarson and Jonasson agreed that political disagreements should not be transferred to criminal courts. There was no violation of law found in the conduct of Geir H. Haarde as Prime Minister in the period leading up to the bank collapse. On the contrary, Gissurarson pointed out that the emergency law which was passed at Haarde’s initiative on 6 October 2008 minimised the risk for the Treasury, and thus for the taxpayers, of the bank collapse. Gissurarson also observed that the quick recovery of Iceland after the collapse showed that the economic reforms Haarde and his predecessor David Oddsson had implemented in 1991–2007, stabilisation, liberalisation, privatisation and tax cuts, had been quite successful.

Geir H. Haarde took the floor after the two talks and thanked Professor Gissurarson for his book. The author had managed to present many new arguments and evidence about this case, he said. His own conviction for a triviality, a mere formality, a very doubtful and controversial interpretation of a constitutional stipulation, had surprised him. Many of those who had voted for indicting him had, like Ogmundur Jonasson, changed their minds and some of them had personally apologised to him. Associate Professor Stefania Oskarsdottir chaired the meeting.

The meeting was recorded and can be accessed online. Morgunbladid published a report on the meeting, and two former justice ministers, Ogmundur Jonasson himself and Bjorn Bjarnason, blogged about it. The legal experts and judges criticised in Gissurarson’s book, such as Professor Jonatan Thormundsson, Judge Eirikur Tomasson, and Professor Robert Spano, have however made no comments on it.

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