Iceland's ruthlessness and lack of honesty must be exposed, not least because the country still owes billions of pounds to the UK.
By Barry Sheerman MP
Visitors to Iceland are made welcome by locals who are hardworking people, tolerant of tourists and go out of their way to be helpful. They are also well-educated, fluent in English and, as far as I could judge, honest.
Recent evidence suggests that this impression, which I received on a recent visit in a vain attempt to view the Northern Lights, was a misleading one at least as far as some of the Icelandic elite are concerned. In the turmoil of the financial sector collapse, which has almost destroyed the Icelandic economy, Iceland was not an innocent or gullible victim. This is a country where an avaricious group of leading citizens were deeply involved in a cluster of financial institutions that misled investors and swindled their customers.
A careful look at the leading personalities in the Icelandic elite soon reveals the close personal and family connections of a very small number of politicians, bankers, lawyers and even regulators. Due to the nature of their power and influence in this small country, they have been relatively successful in evading justice, scrutiny and retribution for the mayhem and misery they caused. Some of those most responsible for the financial and banking disaster are still in place and indeed some of them seem to have re-invented themselves as regulators.
This situation has serious repercussions for the UK and for other individuals, companies and customers misled by Iceland's elite. Billions of pounds are still owed to local councils, communities, individuals and the UK government. The guilty parties have been able to hide behind referendums which asked the populace 'should we pay our debts'? Unsurprisingly the answer was a resounding no.
Some might say this is all history, move on. Let us be clear that within a very short period of time the failure to investigate and call to account those individuals responsible for the financial disaster may well mean that with little change in Icelandic regulation it could all happen again.
Meanwhile Iceland embarks on a 'close relationship' with China to exploit natural resources. China has a growing reputation for identifying governments in dire circumstances and moving in to exploit such resources. Alarm bells should ring for environmental protection.
Pleasant as the Icelanders seem, they appear to have an attitude to natural resources that is brutal and self-serving. Their unwillingness to cease the killing of whales is the best-known example of this. It is bad enough to be offered this 'delicacy' in every restaurant and have it justified on the grounds that this is a poor country in the middle of the Atlantic which has to continue to hunt whales to survive. Last year 400 whales were killed for their fins, with most of the whale then discarded. The links recently uncovered between Japanese interests and Icelandic fleets which evade all international regulation show a streak of ruthlessness applied to the natural world.
The global community should surely now take firm action to bring Iceland to its senses by imposing strict sanctions on trade until they mend their ways and show themselves worthy of trust.
Barry Sheerman has been Labour MP for Huddersfield since 1979.
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