Ex-Iceland PM on trial for role in banking crisis

Ex-Iceland PM on trial for role in banking crisis 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 collapse.

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