AN Icelandic court found a former prime minister innocent yesterday of three major charges of negligence related to the country's 2008 economic collapse and guilty of a smaller count that carried no prison sentence.
The verdict was seen by many as little more than a slap on the wrist for Geir Haarde (61), who was the only leader in the world to face prosecution over the global crisis. He had faced up to two years in prison if found guilty on the more serious charges.
The special court found Mr Haarde guilty of failing to hold dedicated cabinet meetings ahead of the crisis. But it exonerated him on three other charges, including neglecting to deal with an overblown banking sector.
The mixed verdict immediately sparked criticism from Mr Haarde that judges had tried to appease a public that was angry at a political elite in fostering an unsustainable banking system that grew to 10 times Iceland's GDP just before the meltdown.
"It is absurd," a furious-looking Mr Haarde told reporters after the verdict.
"It is obvious that the majority of the judges have found themselves pressed to come up with a guilty verdict on one point, however minor, to save the neck of the parliamentarians who instigated this," he added.
There is a feeling of disappointment in the country that Mr Haarde was the only politician put on the stand.
"He was the captain on the bridge, but there were more ministers," said Arni Einarsson, a pensioner living in Reykjavik.
Icelanders took to the streets during the crisis, clashing pots and pans outside parliament in downtown Reykjavik. The protests sometimes turned violent in a country renowned for its peaceful nature.
The verdict, broadcast live on TV, may not heal wounds and could lead to questions over who should take responsibility for the crisis.
"This was a slap on the wrist," said Eirikur Bergmann, political science professor at the Bifrost University in Iceland. "It is an in-between ruling to calm both sides of society."