September 15, 2017 / 2:35 AM / 2 years ago

Icelandic government crumbles amid scandal

(Reuters) - Björt Framtíð, one of the three government coalition parties in Iceland, announced early Friday Icelandic time that it has decided to leave the government, after allegations that the Prime Minister’s party had attempted a cover up involving the clearing of a sex offender’s criminal history.

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson speaks in Parliament in Reykjavik, Iceland, September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Geirix

Benedikt Sveinsson, the father of Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, was accused of writing a letter recommending the clearing of convicted sex offender Hjalti Sigurjón Hauksson.

Hauksson was in 2004 sentenced to five and a half years imprisonment for serious and repeated sexual offences against his stepdaughter from when she was five and until she was seventeen.

Criminals convicted of serious offences in Iceland can apply to authorities to have their “honor restored”, effectively erasing their criminal records. Among the requirements to obtain the status is a letter of recommendation by a close friend or an associate. 

Initially the Ministry of Justice, lead by Justice Minister and Benediktsson’s party member Sigríður Á. Andersen, refused to disclose who had written a recommendation for Hauksson.

But following a parliamentary committee ruling that the Ministry had gone beyond laws dictating freedom of information, the Ministry gave in and revealed that Sveinsson had written the letter. 

What has, furthermore, lead to the breakdown in the government was an interview Justice Minster Andersen gave to Stöð 2 news, in which she revealed that she had informed Benediktsson about his father’s involvement last July, but had not disclosed that information to anyone else.

Björt Framtíð appalled 

A close to Björt Framtid told Reuters that the matter had been discussed at a party meeting yesterday, where a unanimous decision had been made to leave the government.

“We held a meeting yesterday, and this issue was discussed, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is not in our spirit, and everybody agreed this was the end of it. It came as a complete surprise. It was something we couldn’t have continued with, this is something completely opposed to our principles. The corruption and dishonesty are just incredible.”

“I was surprised by how everyone agreed, and it was immediately apparent that this was happening. This was a real turning point.”

Seventy percent of the party leadership participated in the vote to rift the government, with 87 percent voting in favor.

Reporting by Elias Thorson

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