Iceland Demands Snap Elections After Panama Papers Leak

Citizens are angry after their prime minister is implicated in massive data leak

Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. — REUTERS
Apr 04, 2016 at 9:23 AM ET

Citizens of Iceland are planning protests calling for snap elections after a massive leak of records revealed that their prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, and his wife owned an offshore company called Wintris Inc. in the British Virgin Islands.

More than 9,000 people said that they plan to attend a protest in front of the country’s parliament at 5 p.m. local time on Monday to demand immediate elections for a new government, Vocativ has discovered. Another protest in the country’s second largest city, Akureyri, is planned for the same time.

An online petition calling for Gunnlaugsson’s immediate resignation also rapidly collected signatures, with more than 24,000 by Monday afternoon local time as the number continued to climb.

More The Shocking Panama Papers: By The Numbers

Details about Gunnlaugsson’s shell company, Wintris Inc., emerged in a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists called The Panama Papers that uncovers a web of financial secrecy among politicians, billionaires, fraudsters and celebrities with offshore holdings.

Gunnlaugsson’s offshore financial activities regarding Wintris Inc., which the ICIJ report says was used to invest millions of dollars in inherited money, could represent a potential conflict of interest. “The company held bonds originally worth millions of dollars in three giant Icelandic banks that failed during the 2008 global financial crash, making it a creditor in their bankruptcies,” the ICIJ report says. “Gunnlaugsson’s government negotiated a deal with creditors last year without disclosing his family’s financial stake in the outcome.”

When asked about the company in a video interview, Gunnlaugsson said “everything is declared on the tax report from the beginning,” and later stated: “this is totally inappropriate.” He ultimately walked out of the interview. On Monday, Gunnlaugsson declared live on television that he would not resign, and said nothing was new about the information released on his business dealings, local media reported.

Icelanders on Reddit explained their anger over what they perceived as a breach of public trust, with one user stating: “it goes completely against the image that he sold to the public. He thoroughly hinted that he was not that type of elitist person that he clearly is.” Another decried the fact that “the person who makes use of every opportunity to praise the Icelandic króna (the local currency) wishes to have all his assets in foreign currencies outside the national economy. It is naturally the height of hypocrisy.”

More broadly, the Panama Papers gained national interest. Google Trends showed that Iceland topped the list in terms of interest for “Panama Papers,” beating out any other country in Google searches.

Prime Minister Gunnlaugsson is not the only head of state implicated in the Panama Papers; eleven other current and former world leaders have offshore holdings, the ICIJ report says.