Business power couple Ingibjörg Pálmadóttir and her husband Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson have, for several years, been financing their investments in Iceland and elsewhere in Europe using money from a company registered in Panama.
The couple, especially Jón Ásgeir, shot to fame for their aggressive international expansion during the financial boom, and then for the collapse of many of their indebted business interests during the crash of 2008/9.
Today’s revelation is a direct result of the Panama Papers leak of 11.5 million documents from Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which journalists have been sifting through—including at Icelandic outlets Kjarninn, Stundin and Reykjavik Media.
RÚV reports that this is the first major Icelandic news release about the Panama Papers since the now-infamous Kastljós broadcast on April 3, which led to the resignation of then-prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.
Ingibjörg and Jón Ásgeir have links to a company in Panama called Guru Invest, which was set up in autumn 2007. According to the documents released, the company has been solely owned by Ingibjörg Pálmadóttir since the beginning—but Jón Ásgeir has joint legal control over it with his wife.
According to the leak, the operation of sporting goods retailer Sports Direct in Iceland is partly owned by Guru Invest, through a Luxembourgish company called Rhapsody Investments (Europe). Guru Invest also paid around ISK 2 billion (EUR 14.2 million/USD 16.1 million) to the resolution committee of bankrupt bank Glitnir to cover debt owned by investments company Gaumur, which was the parent company of Baugur Group—Jón Ásgeir’s highest profile business, which was one of Europe’s biggest retail conglomerates before the crash.
The leak also shows that another offshore company, Jovita, owned by Jón Ásgeir, loaned his Icelandic company, Þú Blásól, nearly ISK 100 million a few weeks before the crash in 2008. Kjarninn asked Ingibjörg where that money, which is registered to Guru Invest in Panama, came from, but received no answer.
Before the crash, Jón Ásgeir was the main owner of Gaumur, was the head of the so-called Bónus family (as Icelandic supermarket Bónus was his family’s big break to business success), and the largest owner of the Baugur retail giant. A company owned by Ingibjörg, a holdings company called ISP, was also a Baugur shareholder. Today, Ingibjörg is the main owner of the 365 media group.
365 is Iceland’s largest private media company, owning news website Vísir.is, television channel Stöð 2 and radio stations including Bylgjan, X-ið and FM957. At the time of writing, they do not appear to be reporting the latest Panama Papers leak.