Panama Papers: Has Iceland's PM Sigmundur quit?

news
06 April 2016

Prime Minister Sigmundur David GunnlaugssonIceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson purportedly resigned from office on Tuesday, becoming the first political victim of the worldwide scandal over hidden offshore financial dealings exposed in the Panama Papers.

However, in a press release sent to international media outlets Gunnlaugsson's spokesman claimed the PM did NOT resign. Instead the Prime Minister only asked the party's vice chairman to ''take over the office of Prime Minister for an unspecified amount of time.''

Political observers have described this latest course of events as ''farcical'' and a game of semantics.

Gunnlaugsson was the first prominent casualty of a worldwide media probe into 11.5 million leaked documents that purportedly reveal the offshore financial activities of 140 political figures, including 12 current or former heads of state.

Earlier the embattled Prime Minister announced he was stepping down in an effort to save the continued life of the coalition. The news of his resignation made world headlines.

The Prime Minister had always denied having broken any laws or done anything wrong, but by Tuesday it had become clear to political observers in Iceland that he was completely isolated politically, and that the only way to salvage the coalition government of the centre-right Progressive Party, which Sigmundur DavÝ­ (David) leads was for Sigmundur to step down.

Foreign and Icelandic observers also interpreted the course of events as Sigmundur having bowed to public pressure he shoulder responsibility of having utilized a off-shore company in a notorious tax-haven, and of not having disclosed this to the public. Nothing in either his political statements yesterday or those of his political allies indicated he had done anything other than resign from office. The press release sent to international media by his spokesman therefore came as a shock to all observers.

The statement details at great length the achievements of Sigmundur DavÝ­ in office and stresses that the Prime Minister was only stepping aside ''temporarily''.

Widespread denials
A series of other leaders and stars figured in the leaked papers have hit back at the allegations, denying any wrongdoing despite the international furore. Those named include Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates, Chinese President Xi Jinping's relatives, British Prime Minister David Cameron's late father, and celebrities such as Argentine football great Lionel Messi.

Iceland's leader had been under immense pressure after the papers, leaked from a Panamanian law firm, appeared to show that he and his wife Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands and placed millions of dollars there. Though the prime minister denied ever hiding money abroad, pressure on his government had mounted, with egg-throwing protesters gathering in the streets on Monday and fresh demonstrations planned on Tuesday.

The vast stash of records from Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca was obtained from an anonymous source by German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared with more than 100 media groups by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The network of journalists published their first findings on Sunday after a year-long probe.

Offshore financial dealings are not illegal in themselves, though they may be used to hide assets from tax authorities, launder the proceeds of criminal activities or conceal misappropriated or politically inconvenient wealth.

Panama has pledged to identify whether any crimes have been committed, and for any financial damages to be awarded. But France's Finance Minister Michel Sapin said his country would put Panama back on its list of countries that do not cooperate in efforts to track down tax dodgers following the revelations.

Gunnlaugsson was the first prominent casualty of a worldwide media probe into 11.5 million leaked documents that purportedly reveal the offshore financial activities of 140 political figures, including 12 current or former heads of state.

The papers, from around 214,000 offshore entities covering almost 40 years, also name the president of Ukraine and the king of Saudi Arabia. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denied any wrongdoing, but he may face an attempt to impeach him.

One of the Panama law firm's founders, Ramon Fonseca, told AFP the leaks themselves were "a crime, a felony" and "an attack on Panama". Mossack Fonseca is subject to investigations in Germany and also in Brazil, where it is part of a huge money laundering probe that has threatened to topple the current government.





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