Viking raider Jon Asgeir Johannesson has returned to the British high street for the first time since fraud allegations relating to the dramatic implosion of Iceland’s financial system were quashed in 2014.
Leaked records from the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, show that the family of the Icelandic businessman helped to fund Sports Direct’s joint venture in Iceland.
According to the Mail on Sunday, Guru Invest, a Panamanian company controlled by Johannesson’s wife, Ingibjorg Palmadottir, partly owns Rhapsody Investments Europe, a Luxembourg-based business. In turn, Rhapsody is the owner of the retail business operating under the Sports Direct brand in Iceland.
It is not known how long Johannesson and his family have been involved with the British sports retailer.
However, a spokesman for Sports Direct said the mid-cap retailer currently has a minority shareholding in Rhapsody Investments Europe.
“We obviously cannot comment on the personal motivations or financial dealings of other shareholders whether past or present,” the spokesman added.
In the early 2000s, Johannesson, through his family-controlled investment vehicle Baugur, snapped up stakes in retailers House of Fraser and Debenhams, toy store Hamleys, and fashion companies Karen Millen and French Connection.
At its peak, Johannesson’s personal fortune grew to $1.6bn a year, and such was his influence on the high street, he was named as the third most powerful retailer in Britain by trade magazine Retail Week in 2007.
Not only did the crisis put an end to the retail juggernaut’s dealmaking, he also found himself facing legal charges.
The former boss of Baugur was accused of siphoning a $2bn loan from the country’s Glitnir bank. The controversial businessman appeared unperturbed by the legal trouble, and in an interview with Bloombergin 2012, he vowed to build a new retail “kingdom” once he emerged from litigation.
Since his acquittal, all eyes have been on Johannesson’s return to UK retail acquisitions and the Panama Paper’s revelations of his family’s financial interest in Sports Direct may prove to be the springboard for yet another raid on the British high street.