Iceland′s former premier goes to trial over financial crisis | News | DW | 05.03.2012
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Iceland's former premier goes to trial over financial crisis

Icelanders have put their former prime minister on trial to answer for his role in the 2008 financial crisis that devastated the country. Geir Haarde is the first world leader to face criminal charges over the crisis.

The trial of the former leader of the conservative Independence Party began on Monday in Rekyavik. Haarde is accused of negligence in failing to prevent the financial implosion that Iceland experienced in 2008.

Haarde denies culpability and has called the charges "political persecution." He blames the banks for the collapse and has said he will be vindicated at the trial.

Haarde resigned as premier in January 2009 in the wake of the collapse of Iceland's three largest banks. By then, the country of 330,000 people had amassed debt that was worth 10 times its gross domestic product.

The premier had become a symbol of the Iceland's dramatic - and later irresponsible - growth. The notion of putting him on trial, however, has been controversial. Iceland's parliament voted 33-30 to press charges against Haarde but decided not to pursue three other former ministers over their roles in the banking crisis.

Trust in politics compromised

Supporters of the trial hope that it will help explain why Iceland's banking system failed. The crisis shook Icelanders trust in the political system, said Stefania Oskarsdottir, assistant professor of political science at the University of Iceland.

"Many people felt the government should have been able to protect them," she told the DPA news agency.

Haarde does enjoy a measure of public sympathy, and there have been numerous attempts to have the charges against him dismissed.

The trial is taking place before a special court that is convening for the first time ever.

If found guilty, Haarde could face two years in prison.

ncy/pfd (AP, dpa)