Eva Joly, the MEP and white collar crime fighter now assisting Iceland’s Special Prosecutor, was interviewed this week in the Dutch NRC Handelsblad. She spoke about her experience investigating fraud at the Elf oil company in France during the 1990s, about the tax evasion of multinational businesses and about her work in Iceland.
Below is the transcript of the interview relating specifically to Iceland. The rest can be read on the NRC website, here.
“The handful of banks that led that island to its doom are all private enterprises. When they collapsed, at the end of 2008, they had ten times more money in their current accounts than the state. The government was left powerless. There are about 330,000 Icelanders and most of them had nothing to do with this. But now the banks’ deficits have become the state’s deficit, affecting everybody. This is theft of public money.”
How is the investigation coming along?
“I cannot say much. The investigation is in progress and might take a couple of years.”
The Icelandic president does not feel that Iceland should repay the Netherlands and the UK back the damages incurred by IceSave’s demise. What is your opinion of the Dutch and British insistence that they do?
“The Netherlands and the UK are being arrogant. They are asking for 2.7 and 1.3 billion euros respectively at 5.5 percent interest. But Iceland’s public debt amounts to 300 percent of GDP. They will never be able to pay back the whole amount.”
Still, Dutch money has vanished.
“Yes, but the Dutch need to understand that it is both unrealistic and unreasonable to demand everything be repaid with so much interest, and to make this a condition for Iceland’s entry into the EU. What IceSave did was wrong, but the Dutch and the British are also partly to blame. All business was conducted through IceSave’s branch offices. The Dutch and British financial regulators said: these branches are not covered by our jurisdiction because they are the Icelandic supervisor’s responsibility. But everybody knew there was no way a handful of people in Reykjavik would be able to supervise properly what was happening in Amsterdam and London. According to a European directive, EU countries should regulate multinationals from outside the EU operating on their territory just as strictly as home-grown enterprises.”
Meaning the Dutch supervisor was negligent?
“To a certain extent, yes. The Dutch were supposed to ensure that the regulators in Reykjavik were doing a proper job, which they weren’t. The Netherlands has tried to cover its tracks citing IceSave’s legal status. Scandalous, really.”
How will this all end?
“If you do not meet Iceland halfway, only fishermen will remain on the island and you still won’t have your money back. The brain drain has begun: 8,000 highly educated people have already left the island and more will follow. It is not in our interest to impoverish Iceland. It has natural resources we might need in the future and it has a strategic location. We should not bully them, but negotiate, in a more grown up and proper fashion than we are currently doing.“