REYKJAVIC (Web Desk) – Thousands gathered in Iceland on Tuesday to call for the Prime Minister’s resignation after the leaked Panama Papers revealing his controversial tax arrangements sparked fury in the country.
Documents released this week claim Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson and his wife used offshore company, Wintris Inc., in the British Virgin Islands to hide millions in bank bonds when Iceland’s banking system crashed and its lenders had to be bailed out.
The shocking revelations led opposition parties to call for his resignation today, which has now been echoed by citizens who launched the largest public protest since the country’s 2008 banking crisis.
Gunnlaugsson insisted he would not resign after documents revealed that he and his wealthy partner, now wife, had set up a company in 2007 in the British Virgin Islands through the law firm, the New York Times reported.
The documents also suggest that he sold his half of the company to her, for $1, on the last day of 2009, just before a new law took effect that would have required him as a member of Parliament to declare his ownership as a conflict of interest.
Gunnlaugsson said the leak contained no news, adding that he and his wife, Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir, had not hidden their assets or avoided paying tax.
But the company, Wintris Inc., lost millions of dollars as a result of the 2008 financial crash that crippled Iceland, and the company is claiming some $4.2 million from three failed Icelandic banks. As prime minister since 2013, Mr. Gunnlaugsson was involved in reaching a deal for the banks’ claimants, so he is now being accused of a conflict of interest.
When asked by Swedish television journalists about Wintris before the publication of the leaks, Gunnlaugsson stormed out, saying that the journalists had obtained the interview “under false pretenses.” He and his wife then issued statements about “journalist encroachment” in their private lives and said they had done nothing wrong.
“I certainly won’t (resign) because what we’ve seen is the fact that, well, my wife has always paid her taxes. We’ve also seen that she has avoided any conflict of interest by investing in Icelandic companies at the same time that I’m in politics.
“And finally, we’ve seen that I’ve been willing to put the interests of the people of Iceland first even when it’s at a disadvantage to my own family,” the Iceland PM said.
Gunnlaugsson, who came to power in 2013 on a wave of anti-bank anger in the aftermath of the Icelandic financial meltdown, is facing a no-confidence vote over the revelations.
He is among a number of world leaders including Vladimir Putin, celebrities, British politicians and the global rich who have been revealed in 11million documents in the biggest financial data leak in history.
Arntho Haldersson, a financial services consultant, said: “He’s just lost all credibility. After all this country has been through, how can he possibly pretend to lead Iceland’s resurrection from the financial crisis? He should go,” reports The Guardian.
Anna Mjoll Gudmundsdottir, a tourism researcher, told the newspaper: “These people, they say they’ve learned the lessons from what happened to us in 2008, but they’re still just hiding our money.”
More than 16,000 Icelanders have also signed a petition demanding his resignation, while the opposition has said it will seek a vote of no confidence in parliament, likely to be held this week.