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Three Icelandic Ministers with Ties to Tax Havens

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Three Icelandic Ministers with Ties to Tax Havens

Alþingishúsið, the Icelandic parliament building.

The house of Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament. Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Since it was revealed on March 15 that Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s wife owns a company registered in Tortola, the British Virgin Islands, the issue has been much debated in the media, not the least because the company registered a claim of about ISK 500 million (USD 4 million, EUR 3.5 million) against the assets of the bankruptcy estates of the failed Icelandic banks.

It came to light yesterday that the three Icelandic ministers, as well as other influential people in Icelandic politics, are listed as owners of offshore companies, registered in tax havens. According to RÚV, the information appears in documents made available to journalists in a number of countries.

In the next few days, the TV news program Kastljós, in cooperation with Reykjavík Media, Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, plans to cover the subject. The documents in question span 25 years. Some of the companies were established as late as in 2014. Information regarding such companies has so far been inaccessible. Secrecy surrounds the establishment and operation of such companies and only rarely is it possible to find out who their real owners are.

RÚV sent the following question to all MPs and ministers, “Do you or your spouse own, or have you owned, assets or interests in so-called offshore companies or tax havens (for example in the British Virgin Islands)?” Yesterday about 60 percent of MPs had answered the question.

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson responded that ten years ago, he purchased for a one third stake in a holding company, Falson & Co., established by Landsbankinn in Luxembourg for his business partner, relating to the purchase of real estate in Dubai. Bjarni stated he was under the impression the company was registered in Luxembourg, until he was informed by a foreign journalist that it’s actually registered in a known tax haven, Seychelles Islands, in the Indian Ocean. He claimed he had informed Icelandic tax authorities of its existence.

According to Bjarni, the company suffered losses and was liquidated in 2009, when it entered a deregistration process.

Minister of the Interior Ólöf Nordal, on the other hand, responded that Landsbankinn in Luxembourg established a company in the British Virgin Islands for her husband, who never used the company for investment or other purposes. “Therefore, the company is irrelevant to my husband and me. As far as we know, it was discontinued in 2008.”

Head of the Left-Green Movement Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV yesterday that the issue is proof that rules regarding the requirement of MPs to reveal their financial interests are inadequate. She calls the matter embarrassing for the country and the nation.

This afternoon, the opposition parties plan to discuss the possibility of proposing a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugson.

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