Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson announced his resignation on Tuesday amid mounting public anger over evidence that he and his wife owned a secretive offshore company called Wintris that managed millions of dollars of investments in three Icelandic banks that collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis.
Calls to step down were sparked by this weekend’s so-called “Panama Papers” leak, a massive trove of documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonesca that exposed a number of international leaders and their closest confidantes as participating in complex offshore banking arrangements. High-profile leaders linked to the leak include Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
But Gunnlaugsson is the first leader ousted in the international fallout. The public outcry in Iceland is particularly intense due to lasting memories of the 2008 financial crisis, which paralyzed the country’s economy, and sent shock waves around the world. And as our own Kevin Drum noted, Iceland was “ground zero for the European banking crisis.”
Gunnlaugsson had initially insisted on staying in office. When questioned about his ties to Wintris on Monday, the visibly shaken prime minister was unable to properly respond and ended the interview. “You are asking me nonsense,” he is heard telling the reporters conducting the interview.
In the days following the leak, mass demonstrations calling for Gunnlaugsson to step down were held outside Parliament. Some people were seen hurling yogurt at the building in protest: