REYKJAVIK, ICELAND — Iceland’s government is under pressure from a tax corruption scandal, and the prime minister could be forced to resign.
For now, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson says he’s merely taking a break from the office.
The massive Panama Papers leak, consisting of 11.5 million documents released to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source, revealed several members of Iceland’s government, including its prime minister are among numerous world leaders with secretive offshore shell corporations, potentially allowing them to hide billions in income from taxes.
A video released Sunday by The Guardian showed Gunnlaugsson abruptly ending a television interview, where he was confronted about selling his share in a shell corporation, Wintris, Inc., to his wife just one day before a new law came into effect which would have required him to disclose his holdings.
Did Iceland’s prime minister resign?
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Gunnlaugsson appeared on Icelandic television to insist he had done nothing wrong, and declared that he would not resign.
“There is nothing strange there,” Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Iceland’s minister for foreign affairs and external trade, told AP.
Thousands protested on Monday amid a growing number of calls for the prime minister’s resignation from opposition party members.
Icelandic prime minister resigns after revelations in Panama papers of his offshore investments – Icelandic media https://t.co/DHPjmbpOzj
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) April 5, 2016
But he quickly clarified that he wasn’t leaving office, but rather handing over power temporarily to Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, Iceland’s minister of fisheries and agriculture. A press release sent out to clarify the matter reads,
“Today the Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson has suggested to the Progressive Party Parliamentary group that the Progressive Party Vice-Chairman take over the office of Prime Minister for an unspecified amount of time. The Prime Minister has not resigned and will continue to serve as Chairman of the Progressive Party.”
In a late Tuesday entry on Slate’s blog, The Slatest, Elliott Hannon quipped, “He didn’t, like, resign resign, he’s just stepping aside for a minute.”
Gunnlauggson’s ‘InDefence’ movement opposed big banks’ bad behavior
The Panama Papers leak is one of the largest leaks in history, containing over 2.6 terabytes of data that implicates government officials, rich “1 percenters,” and organized criminals in the creation and operation of 211,000 shell corporations.
— Allison Kilkenny (@allisonkilkenny) April 3, 2016
The revelations come as Iceland is still struggling to recover faith in its government and economy after the devastating 2008 financial crash. Unlike other nations, which let bankers get away with just fines, Iceland privatized three of its major banks and prosecuted over two dozen bankers. Gunnlauggson gained power in the country as part of the “InDefence” movement that opposed ties between the failed banks and Wall Street.
Gunnlaugsson isn’t the only member of the government implicated in the leak. Others include Bjarni Benediktsson, Iceland’s finance minister, Ólöf Nordal, the minister of the interior, and Hrólfur Ölvisson, chairman of Gunnlaugsson’s Progressive Party.
Also involved are “several of Iceland’s wealthiest men, a number of former top bankers, and at least one high-level government advisor,” noted Frederik Obermaier and Bastian Obermayer in Süddeutsche Zeitung. “The number of suspects is shockingly high for a country of just 330,000 inhabitants.”