Iceland’s prime minister offers to temporarily step aside after Panama Papers

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Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson has offered to temporarily step aside as Iceland’s prime minister but has rejected his deputy’s comments that he is resigning. He will also stay on as leader of the Progressive Party.

Agriculture Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, the party’s vice chairman, had announced on Tuesday that Gunnlaugsson had agreed to resign as prime minister but would stay on as party leader. Those comments came just hours after the president rejected Gunnlaugsson’s request to dissolve parliament.

But in a statement sent hours later to BNO News and several other international news organizations, the prime minister’s office said Gunnlaugsson had not resigned but merely suggested to step aside “for an unspecified amount of time,” during which Jóhannsson would serve as acting prime minister.

“The Prime Minister’s action reflects his wish to not stand in the way of the important issues that still remain on the Government’s agenda being finished in this term, issues like housing reform and the reform of the financial system that he will continue to fight for in the interest of the Icelandic people,” the office said.

The statement was emailed to BNO News and other foreign news organizations by the prime minister’s press secretary, but Icelandic media indicated that their newsrooms were not provided with the statement, causing further confusion on a day during which the prime minister and the president accused each other of lying.

The statement added that assets owned by Gunnlaugsson’s wife were reported on income tax returns since 2008. “No Parliamentary rules on disclosure have been broken. Even The Guardian and other media covering the story have confirmed that they have not seen any evidence to suggest that the Prime Minister, his wife, or Wintris engaged in any actions involving tax avoidance, tax evasion, or any dishonest financial gain,” it said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Gunnlaugsson met with Bjarni Benediktsson, the leader of coalition partner the Independence Party, and said on Facebook that he would dissolve parliament and call for elections if the Independence Party did not back the government. But when he met with the president hours later, his request to dissolve parliament was denied.

Gunnlaugsson has been under intense pressure to resign after the so-called Panama Papers showed that his wife owned a secretive offshore company with a claim on the country’s collapsed banks. Around 10,000 protesters gathered outside parliament on Monday evening to call for the government to resign.

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