From Iceland — PM, Finance Minister To Answer For Offshore Accounts

PM, Finance Minister To Answer For Offshore Accounts

Published April 2, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Screenshot from debt relief conference

Both ministers will be present in parliament on Monday, and investigations are revealing that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to elected officials with offshore accounts.

Kjarninn reports that both Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson will be present when parliament commences again this Monday. They will be sitting in for a portion of parliamentary procedures known as “unprepared questions”, wherein ministers field questions from other members of parliament that are submitted during the session itself, as opposed to receiving the questions ahead of time and submitting carefully crafted answers.

It is very likely that amongst the questions these two will have to field will concern offshore bank accounts, as both have been found to be involved in having millions in foreign holding companies – while both have themselves advocated for the strength of the Icelandic króna and have upheld capital controls on everyone else.

Members of the opposition are expected to submit a proposal calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections, and the idea has considerable popular support. A petition calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation already has 15,000 signatures and climbing, and a protest demonstration calling for early elections has the pledged attendance of some 2,300 people.

The Prime Minister has been on the defensive since the news broke, having refused to answer any questions from Kjarninn and state broadcasting company RÚV. He did, however, grant an interview to radio station Útvarp Saga and the newspaper Fréttablaðið, wherein he contended that he did nothing wrong and the charges against him were politically motivated.

Moreover, the two ministers are not the only ones connected to offshore accounts.

The husband of Minister of the Interior Ólöf Nordal also reportedly had considerable earnings in a foreign holding company, but the phenomenon is not exclusive to the parliamentary ruling coalition, or even just to parliament itself. Social Democrat treasurer Vilhjálmur Þorsteinsson resigned after it came to light he had money in a company registered in Luxembourg; Independence Party Reykjavík city councilperson Júlíus Vífill Ingvarsson set up a trust fund in Switzerland; and Hrólfur Ölvisson, the managing director of the Progressive Party, is reportedly connected to two companies in the British Virgin Islands, a popular tax shelter.

While all of these politicians have sworn that their offshore money has been reported to tax authorities in Iceland, the matter does raise questions in the general public. Amongst them is the concern that many of these politicians had and continue to tout the strength of the Icelandic króna and the importance of keeping earnings in the country. In the Prime Minister’s case, there is also the added element that he has long described claimants on Iceland’s banks as “vultures” – while neglecting to mention that the company his wife owns in the British Virgin Islands, Wintris Inc., is also a claimant on the Icelandic banks, to the tune of about half a billion ISK.

How the matter will ultimately play out in parliament still remains to be seen. The next parliamentary elections are not scheduled to start until the spring of 2017. That may change in light of recent events.

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