This Video Of Iceland's Prime Minister Walking Out Of An Interview Shows Just How Crucial The Panama Papers Are
Just the first look at the 11.5 million documents released as a part of the Panama Papers has political leaders around the world on edge. More than 140 politicians and public officials have been named so far, and one video shows how devastating the Panama Papers leak could be. Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson walked out of an interview with The Guardian when asked about the company that the papers connect him to, and all of it was caught on film. The repercussions for the politician could be huge — as for other leaders whose names have surfaced in the reports.
According to the Panama Papers, Gunnlaugsson and his wife used the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to create a shell company in the British Virgin Islands called Wintris to hold investments. Gunnlaugsson officially owned 50 percent of the company until 2009 when he sold his half to his wife for $1. He never submitted his shares to the Iceland register of financial interests for members of parliament — and The Guardian interview is the first time he has ever spoken about the issue publicly.
When asked if he ever owned any offshore assets, he said no. Oops:
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.
When asked specifically about Wintris, he was able to jog his memory slightly, after several awkward pauses:
Well, it's a company, if I recall correctly, which is associated with one of the companies that I was on the board of.
He stood up and left shortly thereafter, protesting that the questions were "nonsense" and accusing the journalists of setting up the interview under "false pretenses." He said, "Something is being made suspicious that isn't suspicious," before walking out the door. Both he and his wife have since issued statements accusing the journalists of intruding into a private business mater.
In Iceland, this is a big deal for two reasons. One, there's the secrecy of the foreign shell company, and two, Wintris owned 500 million Icelandic krona of bonds in three of the country's banks. All three collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis. This is awkward for Gunnlaugsson because he has been vocal about defending the country's financial system in the wake of the bank collapses — and now he's directly tied to the banks that failed.
Already in Iceland, opposition parties are talking of a general election to replace him. Over the weekend, there were talks on a motion to call the election. A former finance minister Steingrímur Sigfússon told The Guardian that he disapproved:
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.
Former prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir called for Gunnlaugsson to "give a straightforward account of all the facts of the matter." She said he would need to resign if he didn't regain public trust soon.
The same sort of scene could play out in countries around the world with public officials and politicians tied to the Panama Papers' accounts. Other big-name politicians include Mauricio Macri, the newly elected President of Argentina, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, and King Salman of Saudi Arabia.
Future investigations will show how serious the allegations against the named political elite really are. In Gunnlaugsson's case, his future as prime minister will be decided by fellow politicians in his governing coalition. One of the most important, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, was also named in the leak.