Iceland chief executive Malcolm Walker spoken up for Baugur founder Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, who was forced to stand down as chair of the grocer yesterday.

Jóhannesson left the retailer’s board following allegations – which he denies – about his involvement in the collapse of Icelandic bank Glitnir during the country’s financial meltdown. He also stood down from the board of department store group House of Fraser.

Walker paid warm tribute to Jóhannesson’s contribution. He said: “Jón Ásgeir was the first outsider to spot the huge turnaround potential of Big Food Group as long ago as 2002, when Baugur made its first investment in the company, and he played the central role in completing the takeover of the company by a consortium of principally Icelandic investors in 2005.

“History will relate that this has been one of the most successful public-to private transactions in the history of UK retailing, with Iceland Foods in 2009 achieving record profits and securing recognition as one of the best bigcompanies to Work For in the UK.

“We will always be hugely grateful to Jón Ásgeir for everything he has done to make the amazing Iceland Foods recovery story possible, for the faith he placed in me and the rest of the returning senior management team, and for his contribution to our board since 2005.”

Jóhannesson has been succeeded as Iceland chairman by Baldvin Valtysson, head of the London office of Icelandic bank Landsbanki, who has been a non-executive director since June 2008.