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Report on Offshore Assets Shelved Pre-Election

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Report on Offshore Assets Shelved Pre-Election

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson speaking at the Independence Party general meeting in 2013.

Bjarni Benediktsson. Photo: Geir Ólafsson.

A report revealing that the Icelandic state is likely losing out on ISK 2.8 to 6.5 billion (USD 25-57 million, EUR 23-54 million) annually because of Icelandic tax payers’ offshore assets was presented on Friday. The report was authored by a task force appointed by Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson.

The report was handed in to Bjarni’s ministry on September 13. The minister told RÚV that the report hadn’t been presented to him until October 5, still three weeks before the election on October 29, yet he didn’t make it public until last week.

When asked about the timing of the report’s publication on Saturday, Bjarni stated it was “nonsense, subterfuge and politics” that he had hid the report away until after the election, and stated it wouldn’t have changed anything about the election’s outcome. He maintained that he hadn’t seen the report until after the parliament had gone into recess.

However, this turned out not to have been the case, and yesterday Bjarni apologized for his “inaccurate” response. “My timeline may not have been absolutely exact … But what I meant … is that in the first week of October the recess was being negotiated … so I figured that the issue could never have been discussed at parliament … at that time.”

Editor of online newspaper Kjarninn, which had repeatedly asked the ministry about the report on offshore assets, said on Morgunútvarpið radio program this morning that Bjarni had obviously shelved the report, commenting that “in this case, inaccuracy is just a fancy word for lying.”

Online newspaper Stundin reported that on the cover of the report, the words ‘September 2016’ had been erased. When asked by RÚV whether this was his doing, Bjarni responded: “Absolutely not. I have no idea how something like that could have happened.” The Finance Ministry's information officer Elva Björk Sverrisdóttir later explained that it had happened by mistake.

Bjarni’s Independence Party won the election in October, receiving almost 30 percent of votes and Bjarni is set to become Iceland’s next prime minister. His former partner in government, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, resigned as prime minister last spring following revelations of his and his wife’s offshore assets in the Panama Papers.

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