‘Me too’ moment in Iceland has business leaders resigning

12 January 2022 - 11:00 By Ragnhildur Sigurdardottir
A “Me Too” scandal has broken out in Iceland, where allegations of sexual misconduct recently led to a number of management changes on the top echelons of business.
A “Me Too” scandal has broken out in Iceland, where allegations of sexual misconduct recently led to a number of management changes on the top echelons of business.
Image: Bloomberg

A “Me Too” scandal has broken out in Iceland, where allegations of sexual misconduct recently led to a number of management changes on the top echelons of business.

Three prominent businessmen and the Nordic nation’s most famous news anchor either stepped down or went on leave last week, after a 24-year-old woman accused them of inappropriate sexual acts in an interview on a podcast called Eigin konur on January 4.

Vitalia Lazareva described a hot tub scene at a holiday home in December 2020, where she said she was groped by the three business leaders, who she said are friends of her then-lover, fitness promoter Arnar Grant. 

What happened “crossed all boundaries, with them all I think,” Lazareva said, adding she “let some things happen” because she was “trying to impress” Grant.

While Lazareva did not name the men on the podcast, she has done so previously on social media. The resignations prompted widespread media coverage, as Icelanders grapple with the latest “Me Too” allegations.

The social movement against sexual harassment has brought about “a fundamental change, which shifts the focus to the victims’ viewpoint” and leads to people being “less hesitant with taking a stand,” said Gyda Margret Petursdottir, professor in gender studies at the University of Iceland.

In earlier times, people were more willing to only leave the cases to the judicial system, thinking society shouldn’t interfere, she said in an interview. “This case in particular demonstrates that there is no longer tolerance for a certain kind of masculinity, which was perhaps accepted and even celebrated” in Iceland before its 2008 financial collapse, she said.

Following Lazareva’s interview on the podcast, former investment banker Thordur Mar Johannesson left his position as chairman of the board of Festi hf., one of Iceland’s biggest companies. Festi’s new chairman, Gudjon Reynisson, confirmed Johannesson had resigned because of the accusations.

Ari Edwald was asked to go on leave from his position as chief executive officer of Isey Export due to the allegations, said Elin Margret Stefansdottir, chairman of the board of its parent company MS Iceland Dairies. Morgunbladid later reported he had been let go.

Neither Johannesson nor Edwald responded to two calls and three messages to each of their mobile phones and social media, and neither provided any comment to local press.

Hreggvidur Jonsson, the founder and biggest owner of health-care holding company Veritas Capital ehf., resigned from its board. In a statement distributed to local media, Jonsson said he “regretted not stepping out of the situation a young woman has reported,” but added he had broken no laws. 

Grant, who according to local media went on leave from his job as a personal trainer following the claims, didn’t comment when reached by Bloomberg News, and hasn’t commented to other media.

On the podcast interview, Lazareva also talked about a separate occasion where she said Grant sought to conceal their relationship, putting pressure on her until she performed sexual acts with Logi Bergmann, the journalist, who she said had discovered their tryst. She was “offered like a prostitute,” she said. 

Bergmann said in a post on Facebook that he was innocent, though acknowledged he had “tactlessly” walked in on the pair. He was going on leave, he told listeners of his radio show on Thursday. He did not respond to two calls and three messages seeking comment.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com


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