Tax dodge scandal claims first scalp in Iceland's prime minister
Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson has been the biggest casualty so far of the Panama Papers scandal, says Matthew Partridge.
The leak of 11.5 million files from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonesca, organised by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), will "provoke red faces and furious denials", says the Financial Times. Mossack organised offshore accounts, firms and trusts for "hundreds of politicians, business and sports people, including 72 current or former heads of state". The records also include "at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the US because of evidence of proscribed activities". Tax authorities globally have said they will "follow up allegations of tax evasion and money laundering".
Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson has been the biggest casualty so far. He has done nothing illegal, but he stepped down after it was revealed that he and his wife failed to "disclose millions of euros in the British Virgin Islands, while the... public struggled through the severity of the financial crisis", says Eirikur Bergmann in The Guardian. Worse, while he was involved in Iceland's bank bail-out talks, "his wife was one of the foreign creditors of the fallen banks", through a firm registered in the British Virgin Islands.
"It is unclear why some world leaders, or members of their family, are posted on the ICIJ's rogue's gallery as somehow implicated," says The Daily Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. In many cases, "the supporting documents do not suggest that they have done anything wrong... there is risk of a witch-hunt and vigilante publicity" here. However, whatever comes out in the end, "off-shore finance will never be the same again after these revelations".
The revelations show that piecemeal changes to the offshore regime have been inadequate, says Richard Brooks in The Guardian. "Tax havens need not just to reform but to end... companies, trusts and other structures constituted in this shadow world must be refused access to the real one, so they can no longer steal money and wash it back in."
"It will take a lot of parsing" to "determine any criminal activity", says The Wall Street Journal. But there's a bigger question: how did so many "public officials... accumulate so much money"? The world's undemocratic regimes figure prominently in the Panama Papers: "Russian and Chinese citizens in particular deserve to know more about their leaders' finances".