back to top
World

This Is Why Thousands Of People Are Protesting In Iceland Right Now

Protesters are calling for the prime minister's resignation following his appearance in the Panama Papers.

Originally posted on
Updated on

The prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, resigned on Tuesday after a massive information leak showed that he and his wife allegedly own bonds issued by the country's three biggest banks via an offshore company.

Brynjar Gunnasrson / AP

The revelation was part of the "Panama Papers," the name given to a massive leak of information from a law firm known as Mossack Fonseca, which handles offshore bank accounts for clients around the world. News of the leak was handled by dozens of outlets around the world, and coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Publication of the Panama Papers started on Sunday and by Monday, the streets outside of Iceland's parliament, the Althing, were filled with protesters calling for the prime minister's resignation.

Video shared by @w03_ shows protest in Iceland over #panamapapers

Advertisement

They were the biggest protests seen in Iceland since the financial crisis of 2008, which hit the country particularly hard.

Olivier Morin / AFP / Getty Images

Despite its three biggest banks collapsing and having to take on billions of loans to keep the economy afloat, Iceland was generally praised for its handling of the crisis.

But the fallout was so severe that a former prime minister, Geir Haarde, was found guilty in an Icelandic court in 2012 of negligence for failing to call more emergency cabinet meetings about the situation. The first world leader to be put on trial for the crisis, Haarde avoided actual punishment by being acquitted on the more serious charges of gross negligence.

Gunnlaugsson rode the wave of anger at the government into office in 2013 as the youngest prime minister in Iceland's history. His center-right Progressive Party's nationalist ethos seemed perfectly suited to the political climate at the time.

According to the ICIJ, throughout it all Gunnlaugsson and his wife, Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir, allegedly owned an offshore company, Wintris, Inc., that they'd purchased through Mossack. Watch the moment the prime minister is confronted — and walks out:

Pálsdóttir, who has legally owned the company in its entirety since 2009, posted on Facebook four days after a mid-March interview and disclosed the existence of the account but not the bonds stored within.

Facebook: annastellapalsdottir

Pálsdóttir, her tax firm, and a spokesperson for the prime minister have all insisted that the account is above board and all taxes have been paid on the assets the company owns.

Gunnlaugsson has told reporters that he refuses to resign over the newly detailed extent of his offshore assets. And that decision hasn't gone over well with the Icelandic people.

Iceland's PM #sorrynotsorry and refusing to resign #panamapapers #cashljós #kastljós https://t.co/A1hTpIhs1e

Advertisement

Which leads to Monday's protests, which several Twitter users described as larger than anything they saw during the financial crisis.

Reykjavík police estimated that some 9,000 people were squeezed into Austurvollur, the small square in front of the Althing. Organizers said some 22,000 people showed up.

A woman speaking at the demos says to the Government: "You are fired!"

That's extremely close to being 10% of the entire country.

Gunnlaugsson has already dismissed the importance of the protests.

PM of Iceland says of the protesters: "It's not like the entire nation is protesting outside" #cashljós

But that has yet to stop the demonstrations, and if anything has thrown fuel onto the fire.

Haha. Great protests signs in Iceland as usual. Goddamn … … Again!

Ásta Helgadóttir, a member of the Pirate Party, tweeted out this picture from inside the Althing, which protesters pelted with eggs and yogurt.

People throwing eggs at @Althingi. The view from the inside. #panamapapers #iceland #panamaleaks #cashljós

Advertisement

Here's a whole video of the protest, in case that's your thing.

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

The scandal became too much for Sigmunder, who announced his resignation as prime minister on Tuesday — the agriculture secretary will take over as leader of the Progressive Party.

Gunnlaugsson is far from the only official named in the papers, which are being published as a collaboration between more than 100 news outlets globally led by ICIJ.

Countries with public officials implicated in the #PanamaPapers tax haven scandal in its 1st 5 hours #Maps

Among those named in the files, though not necessarily implicated in any wrongdoing, are Argentine President Mauricio Macri and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Hayes Brown at hayes.brown@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.

Promoted