Iceland premier resigns in Panama Papers scandal

REYKJAVIK: Iceland’s prime minister resigned , becoming the first political victim of a mushrooming worldwide scandal over hidden offshore financial dealings exposed in the so-called Panama Papers.

Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was the biggest casualty of a worldwide media probe into 11.5 million leaked documents that purportedly reveal the offshore financial activities of 140 political figures, including 12 current or former heads of state.

“The prime minister told (his party’s) parliamentary group meeting that he would step down as prime minister and I will take over,” the Progressive Party’s deputy leader Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson told a live broadcast.

A series of other leaders and stars fingered in the leaked papers have hit back at the allegations, denying any wrongdoing despite the international furore.

Iceland’s leader had been under immense pressure after the papers, leaked from a Panamanian law firm, appeared to show that he and his wife Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands and placed millions of dollars there.

Though the prime minister denied ever hiding money abroad, pressure on his government had mounted, with egg-throwing protesters gathering in the streets Monday and fresh demonstrations planned Tuesday.

‘Groundless allegations’

The vast stash of records from Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca was obtained from an anonymous source by German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared with more than 100 media groups by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The network of journalists published their first findings Sunday after a year-long probe.

Offshore financial dealings are not illegal in themselves, though they may be used to hide assets from tax authorities, launder the proceeds of criminal activities or conceal misappropriated or politically inconvenient wealth.

In Beijing, there was no official reaction to ICIJ allegations that eight current or former members of the ruling party’s most powerful body concealed their fortunes through offshore havens, as well as relatives of Xi Jinping, who has overseen a much-publicised anti-corruption drive.

Asked whether China would investigate those named in the reports, however, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “For such groundless accusations, I have no comment.”

The Kremlin suggested a US plot after the leaks put a close friend of Putin’s at the top of an offshore empire worth more than $2 billion.

“Putin, Russia, our country, our stability and the upcoming elections are the main target, specifically to destabilise the situation,” said a Kremlin spokesman, claiming many of the journalists were former officers from the US state department, the CIA and special services. AFP