Posts Tagged ‘offshore holdings’

Pakistani Police Detain 1,500 in Crackdown on Opposition

October 31, 2016

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani police launched a nation-wide crackdown overnight, arresting at least 1,500 supporters of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan ahead of an opposition rally planned later this week in Islamabad, officials said Monday.

The arrests followed intermittent clashes over the weekend between Khan’s supporters and riot police in the capital that saw police using tear gas and batons to fight stone-throwing activists.

The violence erupted again Monday when police fired tear gas on nearly 3,000 supporters on a main highway some 80 kilometer northwest of Islamabad. Khan’s party rules in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and its chief minister, Pervez Khattak, and some cabinet ministers led the protesters.

Police official Hussain Awan said the protesters pelted police with stones and bricks and chanted slogans against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had warned Sunday that the government would extend protocol to Khattak if he arrived in the capital formally but that he would be dealt with strictly if he led the protesters.

On Monday, a Pakistani court barred Khan’s followers from demonstrating on Islamabad streets, restricting the rally to within the limits of a city park, said government prosecutor Saddique Awan. As of last week, the government has already enforced a two-month ban on street rallies in the capital.

Khan’s attorney Babar Awan said the party would appeal. The party has called for massive street demonstrations for Wednesday, threatening to lock down Islamabad in a bid to force Sharif to resign.

Sharif has been under pressure after his family members were named as holders of offshore bank accounts in leaked financial documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Police have conducted raids based on tips and information about planned violence, said government spokesman Zaeem Qadri. Those who pledge not to take part in violent actions are released, while those considered a threat remain in custody pending charges, he said.

Two security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the number of those arrested overnight ranges between 1,500 and 1,800. Punjab provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah said 838 supporters were arrested.

Police have placed shipping containers on key highways leading to Islamabad to stop Khan’s party’s convoys from across Pakistan from reaching the capital.

The interior minister said Khan’s followers had violent plans, which included the storming of government offices.

Khan’s close aide Shah Mahmood Qureshi alleged that the police were manhandling and roughing up the family members of the workers. “The police are also trespassing on the houses of our leaders and activists,” he said. He said two senior leaders of the party were forcibly bundled in a police van. Both were later released on orders from the interior minister.

Sanaullah denied any manhandling.


Associated Press Writer Zaheer Babar in Lahore, Pakistan, contributed to this report.



Pakistan vows to crush anti-government protests

October 31, 2016

Opposition leader Imran Khan calls for a ‘lockdown’ of the capital, Islamabad

Supporters of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan chanted antigovernment slogans outside his residence in Islamabad on Friday.
Supporters of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan chanted antigovernment slogans outside his residence in Islamabad on Friday.PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The government of Pakistan vowed on Sunday to prevent an opposition political protest planned for later this week, amid tension between the administration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country’s powerful military.

Police blocked roads into the capital, Islamabad, over the weekend after prominent opposition leader Imran Khan, who is leading the protest movement, on Thursday said he would paralyze the city with what he called a “lockdown.” Mr. Khan and his supporters have called for a Wednesday start to protests aimed at preventing government offices from functioning.

Mr. Khan is protesting what he alleges is corruption by Mr. Sharif, which Mr. Sharif denies, after it emerged that the prime minister’s family owned offshore companies. Police and paramilitary forces have surrounded Mr. Khan’s home, on a hilltop outside Islamabad, and dozens of his supporters have been arrested.

The government is at odds with the armed forces over a range of issues, including information leaked to a newspaper about a meeting between top government and military officials. The fallout led to the resignation of information minister Pervaiz Rashid over the weekend.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in a news conference Sunday that the government doesn’t object to peaceful protests, but a lockdown of Islamabad won’t be permitted. He claimed that the closing of roads to the capital had stopped 1,200 armed protesters from reaching Islamabad.

“Lockdown of the capital is not just a crime against the government, it’s a crime against the state,” said the interior minister, who isn’t related to the opposition leader.

Imran Khan, a cricketer turned politician, leads Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the third-largest party in parliament. He insists all his supporters are peaceful.

“There is an impression being created that we’re going to cause unrest, but we’ve never been involved in the politics of guns. Peaceful protest is our democratic right,” Mr. Khan said Sunday.

Mr. Sharif was prime minister twice before, in the 1990s, and both his governments were cut short by military intervention before the completion of his terms in office. Since democracy was restored in 2008 after the most-recent spell of military rule, the armed forces have said they support democracy and aren’t involved in politics. Mr. Sharif returned to power by sweeping the 2013 election.

But Mr. Sharif fears that history is about to repeat itself, his advisers say, with a case being built against him again on alleged corruption and the suggestion that he is a national-security risk.

“We know this script,” said an aide.

A 2014 demonstration led by Imran Khan, which lasted four months, weakened the premier and forced the government to cede to the army more sway over policy, Mr. Sharif’s aides say. They allege Mr. Khan was supported then by parts of the military—something he and the military deny.

The military and the government have continued to tussle over the levers of power. Government officials say that army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif is pressing the government to extend his term, which is due to end in late November. The military denies that, saying Gen. Sharif wants to retire on time. He isn’t related to the prime minister.

The two sides have clashed over the military’s desire to expand its counterterrorism operations to the prime minister’s home province of Punjab, Mr. Sharif’s policy of outreach to rival India and control of the $46 billion program of Chinese infrastructure investment into Pakistan.

Dawn, a Pakistani daily newspaper, this month reported Mr. Sharif’s administration had complained to the military that inaction against jihadist groups targeting neighboring countries was leading to international isolation. The military says it is cracking down on all terrorists. Both the military and the government have described the article, which led to Mr. Rashid’s resignation, as “fabricated.”

Mr. Khan is demanding the prime minister resign or “submit himself for accountability” after Mr. Sharif’s children were named as owners of fancy London apartments through offshore holding companies in reports based on documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca & Co., a Panama-based law firm.

The reports, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists earlier this year, didn’t allege any wrongdoing. Mr. Sharif’s opponents accuse him of laundering ill-gained wealth through offshore companies. The Sharif family has denied any wrongdoing, saying its wealth is based on legitimate businesses.

“We’re doing this [protest] because the prime minister was caught red-handed, because of the Panama Papers,” Mr. Khan said Sunday.

Mr. Sharif had said Friday that Mr. Khan wants to harm his government because the opposition are worried the ruling party will win the next election, due in 2018.

“Pakistan is on its way to becoming a developed country. That’s what concerns the opposition,” Mr. Sharif said on Friday. “If this development continues in Pakistan until 2018, their politics will be finished.”

Write to Saeed Shah at

China’s President Shows Up in the Panama Papers. This could be a Big Deal

April 9, 2016

By Isaac Chotiner

A Communist Party expert on Xi Jinping: why he’s weak, why he’s hated, and how families like his got rich.

 Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People on March 5, 2015, in Beijing, China.   Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Among the revelations in the Panama Papers, the enormous cache of leaked documents exposing how the world’s most powerful people hide their wealth, is that many members of China’s elite have relatives with massive offshore holdings. One of those people is the most important man in China, President Xi Jinping. His brother-in-law was named in the documents, along with other members of the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee. Xi has been flexing his muscles more than any Chinese president in a generation, stifling dissent andreorganizing the armed forces. He has also been leading an unprecedented crackdown on corruption.


Isaac Chotiner is a Slate contributor.

To discuss what the Panama Papers leak means for Chinese governance, I called Richard McGregor, an expert on China’s leadership apparatus, a visiting fellow at the Sigur Center at George Washington University, and the author of The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. We discussed how elites get rich in China, whether this latest scandal will be censored by authorities, and why President Xi has become so unpopular within the Communist Party. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

Chotiner: How have the revelations from the Panama Papers surprised you or confirmed your prior suspicions?

McGregor: It’s extremely interesting but not surprising. I think that—and this may be a rather tortured way of describing it—the previous revelations in the New York Times and Bloomberg about the wealth of top leaders was like an atom bomb. The stuff we have in the Panama Papers is like the radiation that inevitably follows. It is confirmation, in fascinating detail, of what we would expect.

It seems that if you become a high-ranking official in the Communist Party in China either you or your family become very rich, if you weren’t already.

That’s the sad truth. And it may not even be these Politburo members as individuals. It could be, but it could also be family members once removed or a number of times removed using your name and trading on it.

Can you explain how that works? It seems like you are saying that these guys are not themselves necessarily the ones enriching their families.

Yeah. A classic case of that is [former Premier] Wen Jiabao, whose wealth was chronicled in the New York Times. The wealth was mainly related to his wife and his son. His wife had been involved in the diamond-trading business in China. His son was in private equity. Did they have a family meeting, and did Wen say, “go for it”? Or did his wife and son effectively use their [husband and] father’s position as a form of access? It’s possible that it is just as much the latter as the former.

This leads to the larger question about the crackdown on corruption, led by the president. What do you think that crackdown is trying to accomplish?

There is no doubt that a lot of corrupt people are being caught and locked up, and there is no doubt that the campaign has gone much, much further than anyone anticipated. There are some people who would tell you that it is just political and that it is just based on factional politics. I think that is not true. It has attacked fiefdoms of power that spread, especially in the energy center, under Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, who was a relatively weak leader. But it isn’t targeting people on a factional basis. These are people who amassed wealth and power in their own pursuit of power. I think it is also similar to investigations in the United States: Once you get one person, you get the next person down the line. But it’s also true that the core group of elite families—the so-called Red Princelings—don’t appear to have been touched. You can point to a political element there.

Do you think the president legitimately wants to make the country less corrupt, then?

Corruption is an existential threat. It used to be said that China was not like Indonesia under Suharto. In Indonesia under Suharto, corruption gnawed at the core, whereas in China, corruption, in theory, used to be everybody just getting a few percent. I think clearly it has become much much worse than that and heading toward Russian levels of kleptocracy. There was an argument that something really had to be done. I think Xi is popular amongst the people because of this, even though he isn’t popular among party officials.

Why isn’t he?

He is a much-hated figure among many officials because he basically has destroyed a whole bunch of rich families and their networks overnight. They are gone. I think he has hurt a lot of people. It may not be true that everyone is corrupt, but the system partially runs on corruption, and so everyone feels vulnerable. People thought they were doing what everyone else was doing.

Will the revelations in the Panama Papers reach a wide audience in China? I know news reports have been censored.

I don’t think so. A certain elite will know about it. The Chinese firewall is pretty good when they want it to be. And much like Putin does in Russia, this can always be spun as a conspiracy against China by the evil West. It isn’t a good thing for the party, but it won’t bring the whole show down.

You said former President Hu was a weak leader, and I guess the current president is the strongest leader since Deng Xiaoping?

Yeah, you could say that.

If he is hated within the party, how has he been able to be such a strong leader?

He’s become hated. He wasn’t like this when he started out. He did two things: He grabbed the reins of power much more quickly than Hu. He also decided to be a different type of leader. He thinks that to get anything done, you have to be dictatorial. If you try to have consensus-led leadership, like Hu did, you get nothing done. And if you get a hold of the right ministries, you have the power. People often forget that the anti-corruption campaign is a party campaign. The law is an afterthought. When you are arrested, it is just a few guys showing up at your office and taking you away. You have no rights at all. If you want to wield that power, you can. It is frightening if you are on the receiving end. It’s why he is both internally effective and unpopular.

It has often been rumored that Putin has hidden billions. Does one hear the same sorts of stories about Xi?

The New York Times provided pretty conclusive evidence that Xi’s family enriched itself. Since then, and this is according to reports in Hong Kong and Taiwan, he has called a number of family meetings and told family members to stop accumulating things and unwind what they have acquired. In theory, he did respond to these reports and try to get things under control.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the Panama Papers.


Panama Law Firm Mossack Fonseca Says Hack Caused Release of Secret Documents

April 6, 2016

BBC News

A partner at Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the centre of a huge leak of confidential financial data, says it was the victim of a hack.

Ramon Fonseca said the leak was not an “inside job” – the company had been hacked by servers based abroad.

It had filed a complaint with the Panamanian attorney general’s office.

Several countries are investigating possible financial wrongdoing by the rich and powerful after the leak of more than 11 million documents.

“We are amazed that nobody has said: ‘Hey, a crime has been committed here,'” Mr Fonseca, one of the firm’s founding partners, told Reuters news agency.

“The world is already accepting that privacy is not a human right,” he told AFP agency separately.

Last week the company reportedly sent an email to its clients saying it had suffered “an unauthorised breach of our email server”.

Ramon Fonseca, partner at the Mossack Fonseca law firm
Mr Fonseca said the “only crime” that had been committed was the hack of his firm’s servers. Reuters photo


The company has accused media organisations reporting the leak of having “unauthorised access to proprietary documents and information taken from our company” and of presenting this information out of context.

In a letter to the Guardian newspaper on Sunday, the company’s head of public relations threatened possible legal action over the use of “unlawfully obtained” information.

The revelations have already sparked political reaction in several countries where high-profile figures have been implicated.

More on the Panama Papers

On Tuesday Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson stepped down after the documents showed he owned an offshore company with his wife but had not declared it when he entered parliament.

He is accused of concealing millions of dollars’ worth of family assets.

Mr Gunnlaugsson says he sold his shares to his wife, and denies any wrongdoing.

Uefa raid

European football body Uefa confirmed on Wednesday that Swiss police had searched its offices in relation to the Panama papers.

It said police had a warrant to look for contracts between Uefa and Cross Trading/Teleamazonas.

The Panama papers suggest current Fifa president Gianni Infantino signed off on a contract with two businessmen who have since been accused of bribery.

Mr Infantino signed off the contract in 2006 as a Uefa director. He says he is “dismayed” that his “integrity is being doubted” and denies any wrongdoing.

Also on Wednesday, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko reacted to his name being linked to the papers.

He said he had created an offshore holding company for his confectionery business when he became president in 2014 but not to avoid taxes.

He said: “If we have anything to be investigated, I am happy to do that. This is absolutely transparent from the very beginning. No hidden account, no associated management, no nothing.”

Panama Papers – tax havens of the rich and powerful exposed

  • Eleven million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca have been passed to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. BBC Panorama and UK newspaper The Guardian are among 107 media organisations in 76 countries which have been analysing the documents. The BBC does not know the identity of the source
  • They show how the company has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax
  • Mossack Fonseca says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and never been accused or charged with criminal wrongdoing
  • Tricks of the trade: How assets are hidden and taxes evaded
  • Panama Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #PanamaPapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag “Panama Papers”
  • Watch Panorama on the BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only)

Iceland’s Gunnlaugsson, the fall of a white knight

April 5, 2016


© AFP/File / by Hugues Honore | Iceland?s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson attends a session of parliament in Reykjavik, Iceland on April 4, 2016

REYKJAVIK (AFP) – He came to power as a white knight riding a wave of anti-bank fury after Iceland’s financial crisis, but Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign as prime minister Tuesday after hiding offshore holdings.”Iceland has not been marked by class division in the same way as many other countries, and this is one of the many advantages of living here. But we cannot take it for granted that this will always be the case,” he said in an independence day speech on June 17, 2013.

Elected the country’s youngest-ever prime minister in 2013 at the age of 38, Gunnlaugsson was seen as a rising star of the centre-right Progressive Party, positioning himself as a staunch defender of Icelandic interests against international creditors in the aftermath of the country’s 2008 financial meltdown.

With a strong voter base in Iceland’s agricultural regions, he was seen as a refreshing change from the political old guard, which was accused of having turned a blind eye to reckless investments that had brought down the banking sector and left thousands of Icelanders mired in debt.

But the so-called Panama Papers, a massive leak of financial documents implicating politicians, celebrities and public figures worldwide, showed this week that Gunnlaugsson and his wife Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands and had placed millions of dollars there.

The company called Wintris Inc and acquired in 2007 was intended to manage her inheritance from her wealthy businessman father, according to the documents.

Gunnlaugsson insisted that the couple had followed Icelandic law and declared all income and property since 2008.

She meanwhile claimed that her husband’s co-ownership of the company until the end of 2009 — six months after he was first elected to parliament, when he did not declare the holding as required — was merely a bank error.

– Iceland’s third sexiest man –

Gunnlaugsson, after working as a journalist for public broadcaster RUV early in his career, made a name for himself as one of the leaders of InDefence, which was opposed to using public funds to reimburse British and Dutch depositors in failed bank Icesave.

The Panama Papers now reveal that Wintris is listed among the bank’s creditors, with millions of dollars in claims.

Born on March 12, 1975, Gunnlaugsson comes from a political family, his father having also been elected to parliament for the Progressive Party.

He did well in his studies, and began a PhD at Oxford but did not complete it, becoming too absorbed in politics at home.

He was a member of parliament for Reykjavik from 2009 to 2013, serving on the foreign affairs committee and on the Icelandic delegation to the European Economic Area and European Free Trade Association.

In 2013, he was elected prime minister, also taking on the justice portfolio.

Two years later, with the eurozone economy in a deep slump, his government suspended Iceland’s application to join the European Union, saying the country’s interests were better served outside the bloc.

The bid, launched in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis, no longer appealed to Icelanders wary of the weak euro and the EU’s common policies on fishing, a key sector of the Icelandic economy.

In the Panama Papers, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) noted, not without irony, that the baby-faced Gunnlaugsson was in 2004 voted Iceland’s third-sexiest man.

by Hugues Honore

Iceland PM resigns as contagion from Panama Papers goes viral

April 5, 2016
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2016, 12:27am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2016, 1:10am

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson is to step down after leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm showed his wife owned an offshore company with big claims on collapsed Icelandic banks, his party said.

Gunnlaugsson became the first prominent casualty from the revelations in the so-called Panama Papers, which have cast light on the financial arrangements of an array of politicians and public figures across the globe and the companies and financial institutions they use.

Earlier on Tuesday, Gunnlaugsson had asked Iceland’s president to dissolve parliament in the face of a looming no-confidence vote and mass street protests over the revelations.

The deputy leader of his Progressive Party, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, told reporters the party will suggest to its coalition partners in the Independence Party that he should become the new prime minister.

People gather to demonstrate against Iceland’s prime minister, in Reykjavik on Monday, forcing him to eventually resign amid the impact of the release of the Panama Papers, which is at the centre of an international tax evasion scheme. Photo: AP

With the fallout from the leaks reverberating across the globe, British Prime Minister David Cameron came under fire from opponents who accused him of allowing a rich elite to dodge their taxes.

And in China, the Beijing government dismissed as “groundless” reports that the families of President Xi Jinping and other current and former Chinese leaders were linked to offshore accounts.

Beijing also moved to limit local access to coverage of the matter. State media denounced Western reporting on it as biased against non-Western leaders.

The more than 11.5 million documents were leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Among those named in them are friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the leaders of China, Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, and the president of Ukraine.

The papers have caused public outrage over how the world’s rich and powerful are able to stash their cash and avoid taxes while many people suffer austerity and hardship.

Thousands gathered outside the Icelandic parliament in Reykjavik on Monday to protest about what the opposition said was Gunnlaugsson’s failure to disclose a conflict of interest over his wife’s offshore company, which has big claims on Iceland’s collapsed banks.

Icelandic government bonds saw their biggest sell-off in five months due to the uncertainty, with yields on 10-year bonds jumping 15.6 basis points to 5.891 per cent.

In Britain, the leader of the opposition Labour Party demanded that the government tackle tax havens, saying it was time Cameron stopped allowing “the super-rich elite” to dodge taxes.

“There cannot be one set of tax rules for the wealthy elite and another for the rest of us,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said. “The unfairness and abuse must stop.”

He said Britain had a huge responsibility since many tax havens, such as the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands, are British overseas territories, while others such as Jersey or the Isle of Man are British crown dependencies.

According to media that have seen Mossack Fonseca’s files, more than half of the 200,000 companies set up by the firm were registered in the British Virgin Islands, where details of ownership do not have to be filed with the authorities.

Cameron has cast himself as a champion in the fight against tax evasion in British-linked territories. But he was put on the spot by the leaks, which named his late father and members of the ruling Conservative Party among the list of clients who used Mossack Fonseca’s services.

Cameron said he did not own any shares or have offshore funds.

“I have a salary as prime minister, and I have some savings, which I get some interest from, and I have a house,” he said. “I have no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds, nothing like that.”

Other leading figures and financial institutions responded to the leak with denials of any wrongdoing as prosecutors and regulators began a review of the investigation by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and other media organisations.

Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands are among nations that have started inquiries.

“There cannot be one set of tax rules for the wealthy elite and another for the rest of us”

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Paris would put Panama back on its blacklist of uncooperative tax jurisdictions. The Central American nation is one of the most secretive of the world’s offshore havens and has refused to sign up to a global transparency initiative.

Mossack Fonseca has set up more than 240,000 offshore companies for clients around the globe and denies any wrongdoing. It says it is the victim of a campaign against privacy and that media reports misrepresent the nature of its business.

Mossack Fonseca’s Hong Kong office said on Tuesday the firm had never been charged with or formally investigated for criminal wrongdoing in its nearly 40 years of operation.

“We do not advise clients on how to operate their businesses. We don’t link ourselves in any way to companies we help incorporate,” the firm said in a statement.

“Excluding the professional fees we earn, we don’t take possession of clients’ money, or otherwise have anything to do with any of the direct financial aspects related to operating these businesses.”

The reports also pointed to offshore companies linked to the families of Chinese President Xi and other powerful figures.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, when asked if the government would investigate tax affairs of those mentioned in the documents, told reporters the ministry would not comment on “these groundless accusations”.

The Hong Kong government said its tax department would take “necessary actions” based on any information it received.

Credit Suisse and HSBC, two of the world’s largest wealth managers, dismissed suggestions they were actively using offshore structures to help clients evade tax.

Both were among the banks that helped set up complex structures that make it hard for tax collectors and investigators to track the flow of money, according to ICIJ.

Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam, who is aggressively targeting Asia’s wealthiest for growth, said his bank was only after lawful assets.

“We do not condone structures for tax avoidance,” he told a media briefing.

HSBC said the documents pre-dated a thorough reform of its business model. Both banks have in recent years paid big fines to US authorities over their wealth management or banking operations.

The famous personalities drawn into the affair also included soccer star Lionel Messi. Spanish tax authorities said they are investigating allegations of tax irregularities involving Barcelona’s Argentinian striker after the release of the documents.

Messi’s family released a statement denying wrongdoing and saying it “never used the company” involved in the matter.

More from The South China Morning Post is below:

Icelandic PM to Resign Amid Offshore Holdings Controversy Sparked By Panama Papers

April 5, 2016

The Associated Press

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Iceland’s embattled prime minister has resigned amid a controversy over his offshore holdings, a Cabinet minister said Tuesday as outrage over the accounts roiled the North Atlantic island nation.

Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who had denied wrongdoing, is stepping down as leader of the country’s coalition government, Agriculture Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson told Icelandic broadcaster RUV.

© AFP/File | Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson

No replacement has yet been named, and Iceland’s president has not yet confirmed that he has accepted the prime minister’s resignation. Crisis meetings continued as several hundred protesters gathered outside parliament Tuesday in Reykjavik to protest the offshore accounts set up by Gunnlaugsson and his wife.

Opposition lawmakers say the holdings amount to a major conflict of interest with his job. If his resignation is accepted, Gunnlaugsson would be the first major figure brought down by a leak of more than 11 million financial documents from a Panamanian law firm showing the tax-avoidance arrangements of the rich and famous around the world.

Gunnlaugsson said he and his wife paid all their taxes and have done nothing illegal. He also said his financial holdings didn’t affect his negotiations with Iceland’s creditors during the country’s acute financial crisis. Those assertions did little to quell the controversy.

The prime minister sought at first to dissolve parliament Tuesday and call an early election, but President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said he wanted to consult with other party leaders before agreeing to end the coalition government between Gunnlaugsson’s center-right Progressive Party and the Independence Party.

“I need to determine if there is support for dissolving (parliament) within the ruling coalition and others. The prime minister could not confirm this for me, and therefore I am not prepared at this time to dissolve parliament,” Grimsson said.

The president met with Independence Party lawmakers later Tuesday to discuss the governmental crisis. Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, chairman of the Independence Party, criticized the prime minister for unilaterally seeking to dissolve parliament.

“It was a total surprise for us to see that. I don’t think it was the rational thing to do. I’ve never seen it done before in Icelandic politics and I hope that I will not see it again,” he said.

The impact in Iceland from the leaks has been the most dramatic, but leading officials in Russia, Ukraine, China, Argentina and other countries are also facing questions about possibly dubious offshore schemes used by the global elite.

The leaked documents allege that Gunnlaugsson and his wife set up a company called Wintris in the British Virgin Islands with the help of Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm. Gunnlaugsson is accused of a conflict of interest for failing to disclose his involvement in the company, which held interests in failed Icelandic banks that his government was responsible for overseeing.

Arni Pall Arnason, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Alliance, said Gunnlaugsson’s position was not tenable.

“I think it’s obvious that we cannot tolerate a leadership that is linked to offshore holdings,” he said. “Iceland cannot be the only western European democratic country with a political leadership in that position.”

Iceland, a volcanic island nation with a population of 330,000, was rocked by a prolonged financial crisis when its main commercial banks collapsed within a week of one another in 2008.

Since then Icelanders have weathered a recession and been subjected to tough capital controls — another reason the prime minister’s offshore holdings rankle many.


Iceland PM threatens to dissolve parliament, call new elections — A kind of vote of confidence needed after Panama Papers offshore money revelations

April 5, 2016


© AFP/File | Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson

REYKJAVIK (AFP) – Iceland’s prime minister on Tuesday threatened to dissolve parliament and call new elections if he were to lose the support of his junior coalition partner following an uproar over his offshore holdings revealed in the “Panama Papers”.

“I told the leader of the Independence Party that if the party’s parliamentarians think they can not support the government in completing joint tasks, I would dissolve parliament and call a general election,” Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson wrote on his Facebook page.


Iceland’s prime minister is this week expected to face calls in parliament for a snap election after the Panama Papers revealed he is among several leading politicians around the world with links to secretive companies in offshore tax havens.

The financial affairs of Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and his wife have come under scrutiny because of details revealed in documents from a Panamanian law firm that helps clients protect their wealth in secretive offshore tax regimes. The files from Mossack Fonseca form the biggest ever data leak to journalists.

Opposition leaders have this weekend been discussing a motion calling for a general election – in effect a confidence vote in the prime minister.

On Monday, Gunnlaugsson is expected to face allegations from opponents that he has hidden a major financial conflict of interest from voters ever since he was elected an MP seven years ago.

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson walks out of a TV interview when confronted about the revelations.
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson walks out of a TV interview when confronted about the revelations. Photograph: SVT and Reykjavik Media

The former prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir said Gunnlaugsson would have to resign if he could not regain public trust quickly, calling on him to “give a straightforward account of all the facts of the matter”.

The former finance minister Steingrímur Sigfússon told the Guardian: “We can’t permit this. Iceland would simply look like a banana republic. No one is saying he used his position as prime minister to help this offshore company, but the fact is you shouldn’t leave yourself open to a conflict of interest. And nor should you keep it secret.”

Leaked papers show Gunnlaugsson co-owned a company called Wintris Inc, set up in 2007 on the Caribbean island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, to hold investments with his wealthy partner, later wife, Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir.

Iceland’s prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson with his wife Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir.
Iceland’s prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson with his wife Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir. Photograph: Eva Björk Ægisdóttir/Iceland Monitor

The couple were living in the UK at the time and had been advised to set up a company in the tax haven in order to hold and invest substantial proceeds from the sale of Pálsdóttir’s share in her family’s business back in Iceland.

Gunnlaugsson owned a 50% stake in Wintris for more than two years, then transferred it to Pálsdóttir, who held the other 50%, for one dollar. The prime minister’s office now says his shareholding was an error and “it had always been clear to both of them that the prime minister’s wife owned the assets”. Once drawn to the couple’s attention in late 2009, the error was corrected.

Towards the end of Gunnlaugsson’s time as a Wintris shareholder, having returned to Iceland, he was elected to parliament as leader of the Progressive party.

Gunnlaugsson, who became prime minister four years later, never disclosed his Wintris shares on Iceland’s parliamentary register of MPs’ financial interests.

The Caribbean island of Tortola.
The Caribbean island of Tortola, where Wintris was set up. Photograph: Christian Wheatley/Getty Images

Nor has he spoken about the offshore company publicly – until questioned by the Guardian and other media working in conjunction with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

When first asked if he had ever owned an offshore company, Gunnlaugsson told reporters from SVT and Reykjavik Media: “Myself? No. Well, the Icelandic companies I have worked with had connections with offshore companies … but I can confirm I have never hidden any of my assets.”

Asked what he knew about Wintris, he initially said: “Well, it’s a company, if I recall correctly, which is associated with one of the companies that I was on the board of.” Shortly afterwards, Gunnlaugsson ended the interview.

Public statements

The prime minister and his wife then rushed out separate public statements in Icelandic condemning reporters’ intrusions into their private business matters.

Both stressed their financial interests had always been properly disclosed to the Icelandic tax authorities. The Guardian has seen no evidence to suggest tax avoidance, evasion or any dishonest financial gain on the part of Gunnlaugsson, Pálsdóttir or Wintris.

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