Questions over Landsbanki's new shareholder
A big chunk of Iceland's second-largest bank looks destined to fall to a father and son team who made a fortune from selling their brewery in Russia. Questions remain, though, about their suitability to control the National Bank of Iceland.
On Saturday October 19, the Icelandic government's executive committee on privatization, which operates out of the prime minister's office in Reykjavik, announced its decision to sell 45.8% of Landsbanki.
The stake in the country's second-largest commercial bank is set to go to Samson Holding, an investor group whose board comprises three wealthy Icelanders who made their fortune in brewing in Russia: Björgólfur Thor Bjorgolfsson, his father Björgólfur Gudmundsson and their long-standing business partner, Magnus Thorsteinsson.
There are a small number of people in Iceland who question - quietly, given their wealth and influence - whether the father and son are suitable choices to control such a big stake in such an important component of the Icelandic economy.
Outside Iceland, Landsbanki is mainly familiar to international bond investors and banks that have helped fund its loan growth in recent years.
It has an operation in Guernsey. And its biggest international move was the purchase in 2000 of a 70% stake in Heritable Bank, a London-based bank specializing in property. Landsbanki increased its holding to 95% earlier this year and intends to use Heritable to extend its private-banking business.
The Heritable acquisition appears to intrigue Björgólfur Thor Bjorgolfsson.