Ex-Iceland PM on trial for role in banking crisis

Geir Haarde is the first PM in the country to undergo the trial.

Reyjavik: Iceland`s former prime minister
became on Monday the first political leader to be tried over the
global financial crisis as proceedings began to decide if he
can be held accountable for his country`s banking sector

Geir Haarde, 60, who arrived minutes before proceedings
began at 1530 IST looking cheerful and accompanied by his
wife, asked the court for a third time to dismiss the charges,
which he has called a "farce."

The court is expected to announce whether it is throwing
out the case in several weeks.

After the two-and-a-half hour hearing, Haarde said he
was optimistic.

"I`ve always been a very optimistic man," he said, noting
that while "it`s no fun to have to deal with a matter like
this ... everything has gone well."

Haarde was one of four former Icelandic government
ministers blamed in a report last year for contributing to the
country`s stunning financial sector collapse in late 2008,
when all its major banks, which at the time held assets equal
to 923 percent of gross domestic product, failed in a matter
of weeks.

But Parliament, now majority-held by Haarde`s
left-leaning opponents, voted last September that he was the
only one who should be charged with "gross neglect" and he is
thus the first person to go before the Landsdomur, a
never-before used special court for current and ex-ministers.

Haarde headed the right-leaning Independence Party and
held the reins of government from mid-2006 to early 2009 when
his coalition was ousted amid public uproar over the crisis.

His lawyer presented six grounds for dismissal today.
Firstly, he argued no proper probe had been conducted
before the charges were brought against Haarde, that the
indictment was vague and unclear, and that there were no
specific arguments to back up the indictment.

"We have serious complaints about the preparation of the
case, not least the fact that the defendant, Geir Haarde, has
never been questioned as a defendant," Haarde`s lawyer, Andri
Arnason, said.

He also argued that the prosecutor in the case, Sigridur
Fridjonsdottir, had acted as an adviser to the parliamentary
committee that proposed the indictment and therefore had a
conflict of interest.

He further insisted the rules of the procedures in the
special Landsdomur court were unclear, and finally claimed the
Parliament "ignored the constitutional rule of equal treatment
under the law" when it opted to only indict one of the four
ministers a special parliamentary committee had suggested be
held accountable.

Bureau Report

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