Ex-Iceland PM's lawyers ask court to drop charges

By GUDJON HELGASON | September 5, 2011 | 10:15 AM EDT

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — A special court heard arguments Monday about whether to dismiss charges against former Prime Minister Geir Haarde, who has been accused of failing to prevent the 2008 financial crisis in Iceland.

Haarde appeared before the Landsdomur, a special court which is being convened for the first time in the nation's history to conduct a trial of charges against a government minister.

The two-hour hearing finished at midday, and a decision is expected within three weeks.

Haarde, 60, who has pleaded not guilty, could be sentenced to up to two years in prison if convicted.

His lawyer, Andri Arnason, argued that the former leader should have been the subject of a criminal investigation "where the accused would have, among other things, been able to give rebuttals."

"The result of the investigative commission was not a criminal investigation," said Arnason. "It would have been a good basis for a continued investigation but can never replace one.

"How is it that in the 21st century a criminal case is brought forward without a criminal investigation? Would this be tolerated in any other case? I highly doubt that," Arnason said.

However, prosecutor Sigridur Fridjonsdottir said Haarde could have given a statement to investigators at any time.

"The arrangement in this case is considerably different than in criminal cases in general but it in no way contravenes the laws on Landsdomur," Fridjonsdottir said.

It has been nearly a year since the Althingi, the Icelandic parliament, voted for Haarde to be charged for allegedly failing to prevent the 2008 financial crisis in Iceland that sparked protests, toppled the government and brought the economy to a standstill. The parliament decided not to pursue charges against three other members of Haarde's government.