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The Globe and Mail

Former Iceland PM guilty on negligence charge

Geir Haarde, Iceland's former prime minister, waits to be questioned in court in Reykjavik March 5, 2012.


Geir Haarde, the former prime minister of Iceland, has been found guilty of one count of negligence in the run-up to the country's 2008 banking crash but will receive no punishment.

A special court of impeachment designed to deal with criminal charges against Icelandic government ministers found Mr. Haarde guilty of failing to hold dedicated cabinet meetings ahead of the crisis.

But the court cleared him of three more significant charges which could have carried a sentence of up to two years in jail.

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Mr. Haarde was the first politician in the world to face a criminal trial in connection with the global financial crisis.

He was the prime minister during the pre-crisis boom years when the country's banking sector ballooned to 10 times the size of gross domestic product, measured by assets.

He was ousted from power after its three biggest banks collapsed in October, 2008, leaving Iceland with immense debt and a deep recession.

Part of the case against him hinged on the charge that he failed to implement recommendations that a government committee had drawn up in 2006 to strengthen Iceland's economy.

Most of the 50 senior figures in Iceland who testified at the trial threw their weight behind Mr. Haarde, arguing that no one person could be blamed for the collapse of the banking sector.

Mr. Haarde pleaded not guilty and called the accusations "political vendetta" that would set a "terrible precedent". "Nobody predicted that there would be a financial collapse in Iceland" in 2008, he said.

Criticism of the trial has been widespread throughout Iceland. Many questioned why the centre-left controlled parliament chose to only put Mr. Haarde on trial while rejecting charges against Social Democratic ministers who were serving in government at the same time.

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Others have criticized that fact that the trial was not televised and complained that much of the political elite of Iceland chose to support Mr. Haarde with their testimony.

Anger over the way the crisis was handled has softened in the last year as Iceland's economy has begun to recover following a refocusing back to the traditional businesses of fishing and tourism.

Iceland is now enjoying faster economic growth than the average in the euro area, with gross domestic product set to expand 2.5 per cent this year, according to International Monetary Fund estimates.

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