April 5, 2016 – Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said Tuesday that he will step aside and another party official will take over for a while. The move comes days after a massive data leak known as the Panama Papers linked him to secret offshore bank accounts.
After reports that he had resigned, a spokesperson released a statement clarifying the leader’s decision:
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“Today the Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson has suggested to the Progressive Party Parliamentary group that the Progressive Party Vice-Chairman take over the office of Prime Minister for an unspecified amount of time. The Prime Minister has not resigned and will continue to serve as Chairman of the Progressive Party.”
Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson will lead the country, according to Godjon Helgason, a reporter at Icelandic National Broadcasting Service who spoke to NPR’s Newscast unit.
Johannsson, who is currently the fisheries and agriculture minister, “would take over as prime minister until elections [are held] next year — possibly sooner,” Helgason tells NPR. He adds that for now at least, there’s uncertainty over whether Iceland’s president has formally accepted Gunnlaugsson’s arrangements.
As we reported yesterday, the data breach — a massive trove of leaked emails and other documents from a Panamanian law firm — has sparked dozens of reports from international news agencies.
In Iceland, the leaked records portray Gunnlaugsson and his wife as owning a stake in Wintris, an offshore company seeking millions of dollars from failed Icelandic banks. The revelation sparked a public outcry, with thousands of people demanding the prime minister’s resignation.
Gunnlaugsson asked Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson to call early elections and dissolve the current Parliament, the BBC reports, adding that Grimsson refused.
On Sunday, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, along with other international news outlets that collaborated on the Panama Papers story, published a wave of reports about the murky underworld of shell companies and offshore bank accounts that are sometimes used to avoid taxes and hide assets.