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Panama Leak Leaves Icelandic PM in Deep Trouble

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Panama Leak Leaves Icelandic PM in Deep Trouble

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson

Photo: Geir Ólafsson.

An unprecedented leak of more than 11 million documents from the notorious Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca reveals detailed information about a company owned by Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and his wife Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir. The leak, known as the Panama Papers, connects numerous former and current heads of state worldwide to offshore companies in tax havens.

The information was revealed on TV news analysis program Kastljós on national broadcaster RÚV tonight, which focused its coverage on the connection Icelandic politicians have to tax havens. More than 100 media organizations in 80 countries have been analyzing the documents. Coverage of the Panama Papers was published simultaneously by the participating media this evening.

Sigmundur’s wife revealed the existence of the company Wintris Inc. in a Facebook post on March 15. Tonight, Kastljós explained the events leading up to that revelation. On March 11, a Swedish investigative journalist, Sven Bergman from the Uppdrag granskning news program, intervieved Sigmundur and asked him directly whether he had any connections to an offshore company.

When Sigmundur said his only connection might have been through a company he had worked for and affirmed that he had never hidden any of his assets, the journalist asked him directly about Wintris Inc., at which point the PM became defensive, saying it sounded like the journalist was accusing him of something. At that point, Icelandic journalist Jóhannes Kr. Kristjánsson stepped into the interview and asked the prime minister why he had kept the company secret from the nation and why he had not mentioned the company when listing his financial interests as a member of parliament. Sigmundur then stressed that he had always listed the company on his tax return and said that he was not obliged to declare the company in parliament. Furthermore, he refused to answer questions about the assets of the company and finally stood up and walked out of the interview.

The scandal has caused great controversy in Iceland, especially because Wintris Inc. turns out to have 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, and Sigmundur failed to mention his personal interest in the matter when he negotiated a deal with the creditors.

The public’s fury also centers on the fact that the PM has kept the nation unaware of his ownership of a company in a tax haven, while being an adamant supporter of keeping the Icelandic króna as the currency for the rest of the nation and the residents subject to capital controls.

In addition to Sigmundur, two other Icelandic ministers have had connections to companies registered in tax havens. Those are Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson and Minister for the Interior Ólöf Nordal. Moreover, Kastljós mentioned three current and former members of the Reykjavík City council who are or have been registered owners of companies in tax havens. Those are Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir (Progressive Party), Þorbjörg Helga Vigfúsdóttir (Independence Party) and Júlíus Vífill Ingvarsson (Independence Party).

Tomorrow at 5 pm, a protest is planned on Austurvöllur square, in front of the Alþingishús parliament building. Organizers of the event claim the government has no mandate and they demand parliamentary elections. Close to six thousand people have reported they’re going to the event.

Meanwhile, almost 18,000 people have now signed a petition, telling Sigmundur he is fired from his post as prime minister, while 1,000 voters have signed a petition in his support.

Members of the political party enjoying the strongest support in polls in Iceland, the Pirate Party, have called for a vote of no confidence.

The Panama Papers were leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The Iceland connection has been making headlines around the world.

Follow Iceland Review Online for further coverage.

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