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Iceland puts ex-premier in dock for crisis

Iceland's former prime minister, the first world leader charged over the 2008 financial crisis that left nations on the edge of fiscal disaster, goes on trial today.

Geir Haarde became a symbol of the get-rich bubble economy for Icelanders who lost their jobs and homes after the country's main commercial bank collapsed, sending its currency into a nosedive and inflation soaring.

He is accused of negligence in failing to prevent the financial implosion from which the small island country is still struggling to emerge.


Mr Haarde's unprecedented trial -- the culmination of a long fight by the politician to avoid prosecution -- marks a new chapter in the aftermath of the crisis: accountability.

The former prime minister has rejected the charges, calling them "political persecution" and insisting he would be vindicated when he appears at the Landsdomur, a special court being convened for the first time in Iceland's history to try him.

Experts say he has a strong chance of beating the charges, because of the strength of his legal team, growing sympathy for a politician alone in shouldering blame, and because the court's structure -- laid out in 1905 -- is flawed because it allows politicians, not lawyers, to press charges.

In the crisis's immediate aftermath, many sought to affix blame for the havoc across the 330,000-strong nation. A wave of protests forced Mr Haarde out of government in 2009.

Some have argued that Iceland's financial meltdown was tied to the global crisis. But a parliament-commissioned report put much of the blame on Mr Haarde and his government, saying that officials "lacked both the power and the courage to set reasonable limits to the financial system".

Parliament voted 33-30 to pursue charges again Mr Haarde, but not against three other government members.


Mr Haarde pleaded not guilty and has sought to have all charges dismissed, calling the proceedings "preposterous".

Robert Wade, a professor of political economy at the London School of Economics said: "In the public mood, there's a fair bit of sympathy that it is somehow unfair to put Haarde on trial on his own.

"But it's better that somebody go on trial than nobody, because there was very clear ministerial irresponsibility."

The special court will consist of 15 members including five supreme court justices.