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Tax evasion charges against Sigur Rós dismissed on double jeopardy grounds

By | Published on Wednesday 16 October 2019

Sigur Rós

Tax evasion charges in Iceland against the band Sigur Rós have been dismissed, seemingly because of so called double jeopardy rules.

Various members of Sigur Ros were charged with tax evasion earlier this year after the authorities in their home country investigated the band’s finances. They were collectively accused of submitting incorrect tax returns from 2011 to 2014 and as a result evading 151 million Icelandic Krona (just over £945,000) in tax payments.

The band blamed a former accountant for the incorrect tax filings, before adding that they had co-operated fully with the tax authorities since being made aware of the errors. Insisting that the band had not deliberately set out to evade any taxes that were due to be paid, the group’s legal rep said in a statement that “the members of Sigur Rós are musicians – not experts on bookkeeping and international finance”.

At the time the band added that they intended to demonstrate at trial that they had not been actively involved in any attempt to deceive Iceland’s tax authorities. However, there now won’t be a trial after the case was dismissed based on a European human rights law that says people should not be tried for the same crime twice – what is sometimes known as the double jeopardy principle.

This is because the band had previously been cleared of tax evasion charges by Iceland’s Directorate Of Tax Investigations at the same time as they agreed to pay any monies owing from past filing errors. This, the band’s lawyers argued, meant that the Icelandic District Attorney could not, in fact, pursue a case on the same charges in relation to the same filing errors.

A statement from the band’s management, published by Pitchfork, explains: “The band had already agreed to pay all outstanding historical taxes and fines to the revenue services, but were being separately pursued by the Icelandic District Attorney for further fines and sentencing relating to the same period”.

“The defence’s successful move on 4 Oct to have the charges dismissed hinged upon recent European Court Of Human Rights rulings on ‘ne bis in idem’ – literally ‘not the same thing twice’ – grounds, whereby a defendant cannot be punished more than once for the same offence”.

By relying on European human rights rules, the court’s decision could have a wider impact on Icelandic law. The management’s statement adds that the country’s most-widely read newspaper, Fréttablaðið, is “calling for a change in the law to comply with the European Convention On Human Rights”.

That said, the prosecution is now appealing the court’s decision, which could as yet impact on the Sigur Rós case and any wider precedent it may or may not set in Icelandic law.

But for now, the band themselves have said in a statement: “This is great news. We know it’s not over yet, but the ruling is very reassuring”.