Icelandic Prime Minister Had Financial Ties With The Same Bankers He Helped Imprison

Russ Read | Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

In a feat of remarkable hypocrisy, Iceland’s prime minister held shares in a company that invested in some of the same banks he spoke out against after the country was rocked by the 2008 financial crisis.

Prime Minister David Gunnlaugsson was a co-owner of Wintris, Inc., a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. The Guardian reports Wintris held around $4 million worth of shares in three Icelandic financial institutions which fell apart during the financial crisis. When queried on his connections to the company by a reporter Sunday, Gunnlaugsson stormed out of the interview, saying the reporter’s question was “inappropriate” and made up.

“I don’t know how these things work, but everything is declared on the tax report from the beginning,” said Gunnlaugsson before ducking out of the interview.

Gunnlaugsson’s connection to Wintris was revealed through what are being referred to as the Panama Papers, a veritable treasure trove of 11 million documents from Panamian-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. The massive amount of information, comprising over 2.6 terabytes of data, was leaked by an anonymous whistle-blower to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) a year ago. SZ, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and several other news outlets, released its initial discoveries Sunday night. The leak may be the largest in journalistic history.

Findings from the Panama Papers revealed Gunnlaugsson sold his interest in Wintris to his wife for $1 Dec. 31, 2009; exactly one day before he was required to reveal the revenue, operations and various other information on the company to Icelandic authorities.

Gunnlaugsson rode a wave of populism after the 2008 financial crisis destroyed Iceland’s financial sector. Icelanders wanted revenge on the bankers they believed responsible, and the then 38-year-old Gunnlaugsson was more than happy to provide what they wanted after spending years speaking out against those he saw as responsible for the collapse. He was elected prime minister in April, 2013, promising to rebuild Iceland’s welfare state. His government supported state prosecutor Olafur Olafsson in his prosecution of several banking officials who used to work for several Icelandic banks, some of which are now government-owned.

Despite calls for snap elections to remove him, Gunnlaugsson has remained defiant despite the allegations.

“I will not resign,” said Gunnlaugsson during an interview with Icelandic television Monday.

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