Thousands gathered in the centre of Reykjavic to call for the Prime Minister’s resignation after the leaked Panama Papers revealing his controversial tax arrangements sparked fury in Iceland.
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.
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.’
However, he is refusing to resign, claiming that he has done nothing wrong.
He said: ‘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.’
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.
Some, like Putin, Chinese president Xi Jinping and Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad are said to be indirectly linked to offshore accounts through friends and associates, while the presidents of Argentina and Ukraine, plus Gunnlaugsson, are among the 12 current or former national leaders with apparent direct links.
Megastars Jackie Chan and Lionel Messi are two of the big name celebrities named in the Panama files – while David Cameron is under pressure to reveal if his family still has cash in tax havens after it emerged his late father Ian ran an investment fund that never had to pay tax in Britain.
Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson is under pressure to resign over claims he had money hidden offshore – and stormed out of an interview when confronted about the issue earlier today.
When asked about Wintris by a journalist from the Swedish SVT channel, he appeared flustered before appearing to point the finger at his wife.
He said: ‘My wife sold a part in the family company. It was put in the care of a bank and the bank made some arrangement and this company was the result.
‘I don’t know how these things work. But everything is declared on the tax report from the beginning. And I mean what…’
Visibly irritated, he gets up and tries to leave the room, saying: ‘I have never hidden assets. It’s a bit like you’re accusing me of something.’
He walks out but not before being pressed further on the claims as he tried to remove his microphone.
The journalist tells him: ‘We know that Wintris held and holds claims in the collapsed banks. You sold your share of the company for $1 in 2009.’
He replies: ‘No, no, no. You’re asking me nonsense’.
His spokesman later insisted he and his wife have scrupulously followed the law.
Leaked documents show that he and his wife, Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir, bought offshore company Wintris in 2007, but he did not declare an interest in the company when entering parliament two years later.
After the banking meltdown, he is said to have resisted pressure from foreign creditors – including UK customers – to repay their deposits in full because it may have affected both the Icelandic banks and the value of the bonds – which Wintris held.
The couple, who were living in the UK at the time, had been advised to set up a company in order to hold and invest substantial proceeds from the sale of Pálsdóttir’s share in her family’s business back in Iceland, it was reported by The Guardian.
Gunnlaugsson owned a 50 per cent stake in Wintris for more than two years, then transferred it to Palsdottir, who held the other 50 per cent, for one dollar.
He says no rules were broken and his wife did not benefit financially.
The prime minister’s office later said his shareholding was an error and it had ‘always been clear to both of them that the prime minister’s wife owned the assets’.