Global Fraud Footprint

Nordic nations' corruption fight remains strong

A recurring theme of scandals bringing down Iceland prime ministers illustrates citizens’ intolerance toward corruption. Yet are attitudes, protests and political repercussions enough to reverse the trend of worsening corruption in Iceland and other Nordic nations?

For the second time in seven years, thousands of Icelanders gathered outside their Parliament in Reykjavík’s central Austurvöllur Square on April 4, 2016, to express outrage at perceived governmental corruption and demand Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s resignation. Although authorities refrained from using tear gas on the crowd this time (yogurt was the only semi-liquid, weaponized projectile flung by protesters), estimates indicated that as much as 6.6 percent of Iceland’s population joined the anti-government demonstration. Within days of the publication of the incriminating Panama Papers, the prime minister obliged the protesters and resigned. (See Iceland Parliament pelted with skyr, iceland monitor, April 4, 2016, and Iceland ousted one leader named in the Panama Papers, but ended up with another on the list, by Adam Taylor, The Washington Post, Jan. 11, 2017.)

Gunnlaugsson’s downfall stemmed from his failure to disclose, upon his 2009 election to Parliament, his ownership stake in a company set up by the firm Mossack Fonseca (which the Panama Papers made infamous), that was registered to him and his wife in the British Virgin Islands — a notorious tax haven for the global elites’ shell companies. He sold his stake in the company to his wife for $1 in 2009 after his election to Parliament but right before a new law would require him to disclose his involvement in the company. (See Iceland PM steps aside after protests over Panama Papers revelations, by John Henley, The Guardian, April 5, 2016.)

While his actions didn’t constitute a crime, they too closely resembled the shady, international financial machinations many Icelanders believed responsible for the collapse of the country’s financial system in 2008. The fact that the company registered to Gunnlauggson and his wife shared links to failed Icelandic banks didn’t help Gunnlaugsson’s case. It should come as no surprise that Icelanders didn’t approve of the prime minister and his wife squirreling away funds abroad rather than investing at home while also trying to recover funds as a creditor to the failed banks, especially with many Icelanders still dealing with debt or other economic hardships from the collapse. (See How ‘billionaire’ wife of Icelandic prime minister forced to quit over Panama Papers rowed with family over her inheritance, by Imogen Calderwood and Jenny Stanton, Daily Mail, April 7, 2016.)


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