Iceland's PM Benediktsson: scandal-hit survivor

3 min

Reykjavik (AFP)

Icelandic Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, 47, is a wealthy businessman who survived a series of scandals to return to top the vote in this weekend's election.

His conservative Independence Party is seen as a force of stability in Iceland after decades in power and recent years of economic turbulence.

Its athletically-built leader himself is seen to embody resilience: commentators have nicknamed him "The Teflon man of Icelandic politics."

He weathered accusations of financial wrongdoing to see his party win the most seats in Saturday's snap election, but falling far short of a majority.

He will now have to attempt to negotiate a coalition with some of the other seven parties represented in parliament.

- Insider trading allegation -

Benediktsson was born into a family of politicians and businessmen -- one of the richest and most influential in Iceland.

A former lawyer, his financial dealings and political allies have undergone much scrutiny since Iceland's financial collapse in 2008.

Several media organisations reported this month that he sold assets in a major bank just before the government nationalised it that year.

Benediktsson served in 2008 on the parliament's economic committee.

He sold assets worth 119 million Icelandic kronur ($1.4 million, 971.000 euros), according to The Guardian.

"It's being insinuated that I had misused my position and committed inside trading. Both are wrong," he said.

- Panama papers -

The married father of four was a finance minister in a centre-right government when he was named in the so-called "Panama Papers" last year.

Those leaked documents revealed tax evasion implicating senior figures in numerous countries.

Iceland's then prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign.

The revelations triggered angry protests outside the parliament and, in October 2016, the first of two snap elections.

Despite being mentioned in the Panama Papers, Benediktsson managed to form a coalition with the centrist Bright Future and the liberal Reform Party.

In January Benediktsson was accused of delaying the release of a report on tax evasion during the 2016 legislative campaign.

- Paedophile controversy -

It was a separate affair that prompted the second snap vote, held on Saturday.

Bright Future quit the government after nine months in power in a fresh scandal linked to Iceland's controversial criminal rehabilitation law.

Benediktsson's father, businessman Benedikt Sveinsson, was revealed to have written a letter in support of a convicted paedophile.

Reports emerged last month that the prime minister had tried to cover up the story. He denied the claims.

"I was shocked to hear that. I could never sign such a letter and I would never defend such a deed," Benediktsson said.

But uproar over the affair forced him to call the second snap election.

"This situation was uncalled for but we will have an election... to let the voters decide," he said.

- 'Just a politician' -

Some Icelandic voters say the accusations and criticism against him are unfair.

"He's just a politician I suppose. He is trying to do his best. He is no worse than the others," said Johanna Berndsen, a shopkeeper in her 40s.

"People are really hypocritical," she said.

"You cannot always throw stones at others and live in a glass house yourself."