Iceland’s prime minister has resigned following massive protests in the wake of the ‘Panama Papers’ investigation which revealed how the world’s wealthy avoid tax.
Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson stepped down on Tuesday hours after thousands of protesters gathered outside parliament to demand his resignation.
Agriculture Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson confirmed to Icelandic broadcaster RUV that Gunnlaugsson was stepping down as leader of the country’s coalition government.
Gunnlaugsson is the first major scalp from a leak of more than 11 million documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm, showing tax-avoidance arrangements of the rich and famous around the world.
Gunnlaugsson was among the names mentioned in the so-called Panama Papers.
The leaked documents allege that Gunnlaugsson and his wife set up a company called Wintris in the British Virgin Islands with the help of the Panamanian law firm.
Gunnlaugsson is accused of a conflict of interest for failing to disclose his involvement in the company, which held interests in failed Icelandic banks that his government was responsible for overseeing.
Iceland, a volcanic North Atlantic island nation with a population of 330,000, was rocked by a prolonged financial crisis when its main commercial banks collapsed within a week of one another in 2008.
Since then Icelanders have weathered a recession and been subjected to tough capital controls — another reason the prime minister’s offshore holdings rankle many.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ), a non-profit group in the US, said the cache of 11.5 million records detailed the offshore holdings of a dozen current and former world leaders, as well as businessmen, criminals, celebrities and sports stars.
Elsewhere among the sitting world leaders named in the leak are Argentine President Mauricio Macri and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko.
The documents link at least 12 current and former heads of state and 143 other politicians to illicit financial transactions.
Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the centre of the leak, rejected wrongdoing.
“These reports rely on supposition and stereotypes, and play on the public’s lack of familiarity with the work of firms like ours,” Mossack Fonseca said late Monday.
In a four-page document, law firm Mossack Fonseca reiterated that it had “never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing”.
The publication of the data reignited the debate over how the world’s wealthy make use of tax avoidance schemes not available to most of the world’s population.