IMPACT

Investigations, protest, and call for election in Iceland as world responds to Panama Papers

The Panama Papers investigation has prompted a swift global response, including official investigations opened around the world, mass protests in the streets of Iceland’s capital, and an immediate censorship drive in China.

Protesters outside the parliament building in Reykjavik, Iceland on Monday

The Panama Papers investigation has prompted a swift global response in the 24 hours since more than 100 media organizations began publishing and broadcasting stories, including official investigations opened around the world, mass protests in the streets of Iceland’s capital and an immediate censorship drive in China.

Thousands of Icelanders took to the streets of Reykjavik on Monday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson following the disclosure by ICIJ, Reykjavik Media, and Suddeutsche Zeitung that he and two members of his cabinet had owned or controlled secret offshore shell companies.

On Tuesday, Iceland’s president refused a request from Prime Minister Gunnlaugsson to dissolve parliament and call snap elections, according to the Guardian.

After initially refusing to step aside, Gunnlaugsson tendered his resignation on Tuesday afternoon. At the time of writing, his departure had yet to be agreed by his parliamentary peers or the country’s president, according to the Guardian.

Gunnlaugsson violated parliamentary ethics rules when he failed to disclose his 50 percent ownership of Wintris Inc. in 2009. The company held millions of dollars worth of bonds in the three major Icelandic banks, which collapsed in 2008. The prime minister said the company was actually his wife’s all along and that his 50 percent ownership was caused by an error by the couple’s bank.

The crowd gathered in the square across from Parliament House, tossing eggs, bananas, and Icelandic yogurt at the building.

Elsewhere, prosecutors and officials across the world have announced investigations into the Panama Papers revelations:

  • The United States Department of Justice said it was reviewing Panama Papers reports for evidence of wrongdoing, and a U.S. Treasury spokeswoman said the department was aware of the reporting.
  • German Justice Minister Heiko Maas announced plans for a new national register that will put an end to anonymous ownership of companies in a bid to fight tax evasion and financial wrongdoing.
  • In the United Kingdom, HM Revenue and Customs promised to act “swiftly and appropriately” to the allegations, and said it was seeking further data from media organizations.
  • Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, dismissed the revelations as “Putinphobia” and accused media of attempting to “destabilize” Russia ahead of elections. Peskov also denied revelations his wife held a secret offshore company.
  • The Chinese government responded to the Panama Papers with a renewed censorship drive, and banned all media sites from mentioning the investigation in China.
  • In France, the Finance Ministry announced an official investigation and President Francois Hollande said: “I can assure you that as information emerges, investigations will be carried out, cases will be opened and trials will be held.” France also put Panama back on their tax haven blacklist, according to Reuters.
  • Panama will open an investigation into the law firm at the center of the Panama Papers, Mossack Fonseca. It will be the second time this year the law firm has faced an official probe. Panama President Juan Carlos Varela agreed to cooperate with investigations, and the nation’s attorney general said Panama would comply with requests for assistance from foreign countries launching their own investigations.
  • Two Spanish authorities, the Attorney General’s office and the Finance Ministry, announced investigations, and contacted ICIJ and its media partners seeking access to the data.
  • The Australian Tax Office confirmed it was targeting 800 high-net-wealth Australian clients of Mossack Fonseca.
  • In Austria, regulators announced an investigation into whether two banks named in Panama Papers stories breached rules on money laundering.
  • Belgium’s finance minister congratulated the journalists who worked on the Panama Papers, and said Belgium would open an investigation into its findings.
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked for a special multi-agency task force to be established to probe the Panama Papers revelations for evidence of tax evasion or wrongdoing by Indian citizens.
  • The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority reached out to authorities in Luxembourg for information as it commenced an investigation into Nordic banking giant Nordea, after revelations the bank helped clients set up secret offshore accounts.
  • Norway’s bank regulatory body, the Financial Supervisory Authority, also said it would seek an explanation from Norwegian banks named in the investigation.
  • In Mexico, the tax authority said it would review the Panama Papers findings and open investigations against tax evaders. It said it would invoke exchange of information agreements with other countries as it sought more information.
  • The head of advocacy group Transparency International’s branch in Chile resigned on Monday following revelations he held a number of offshore companies.
  • The Costa Rican government used the Panama Papers revelations to call for law and policy reform to crackdown on tax evasion and money laundering.
  • Mossack Fonseca has denied wrongdoing, and published its full response to the revelations on its website. Founding partner Ramon Fonseca denounced the Panama Papers investigation as an attack on privacy.

ICIJ and its media partners will continue publishing more findings over the coming days and weeks.