Thursday 7 April 2016

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson

I have no doubt that Mossack Fonsaca, the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, is a highly reputable and litigious organisation, so shall restrain myself from commenting on their management of offshore investment portfolios. That some of their clients are dodgy oligarchs, corrupt politicians, arms dealers, crooks, spivs and chancres all bent on avoiding tax does not in any way taint the good name of the company.

Watch Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, at the time soon-to-be-former Prime Minister of Iceland, fielding questions about his financial arrangements, following the emergence of the so-called 'Panama Papers', more than 11 million leaked documents from the database of the aforementioned Mossack Fonseca,. The Panama Papers indicated that Gunnlaugsson's wife, Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir, had bought a British Virgin Islands company called Wintris in 2007, in order to invest her family's money. She bought Wintris from a Panamanian company using a Luxembourgian bank. Her husband did not disclose his fifty percent share of Wintris when he entered parliament in 2009 and, eight months later, he sold his share to his wife for one US dollar.

In 2015, he entered into an agreement with the creditors of failed Icelandic banks which resulted in a very large financial gain for his wife. Earlier this week some television reporters cornered him. Watch him again. He has now resigned. Our man Cameron is caught up in all this. His dad avoided tax for many years and Dave (and his family) stand to benefit from a tidy tax-free sum, which is of course a private matter and none of our business.

A threadbare phrase currently much in circulation is: 'There's one rule for the rich and one rule for the poor'. That needs updating - there are no rules for the rich, and too many for the rest of us. I'd like to know what the legal options are - sequestration? Sounds like a plan, but I expect it would take decades and enrich lawyers without changing much. Worth a try though, surely? Sequestrated offshore loot could bail out future banking crises . . .

Now here's Auden, bang on the money as ever, from The Dog Beneath the Skin, a play written in 1936 in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood. This is a song for two journalists and a chorus:

2nd Journalist [singing]
The General Public has no notion
    Of what's behind the scenes.
They vote at times with some emotion
    But don't know what it means.
    Doctored information
    Is all they have to judge things by;
The hidden situation
    Develops secretly.

If the Queen of Poland swears,
    If the Pope kicks his cardinals down the stairs,
If the Brazilian Consul
    Misses his train at Crewe,
    If Irish clergy
    Lose their energy
    And dons have too much to do:
The reason is just simply this:
    They're in the racket too.

1st Journalist
To grasp the morning dailies you must
The evening specials make just nonsense
    Unless you've shares in mines.
national estrangements
Are not what they seem to be;
    Underground arrangements
Are the master-key.

If Chanel gowns have a train this year,
    If Morris cars fit a self-changing gear,
If lord Peter Whimsey
    Misses an obvious clue,
If Wallace Beery
Should act a fairy
    And Chaplin the Wandering Jew;
The reason is
Just simply this:
    They're in the racket too!

2nd Journalist
There's lots of little things that happen
    Almost every day
That show the way the wind is blowing
    So keep awake, we say.
We have got the lowdown
    On all European affairs;
To History we'll go down
    As the men with the longest ears.

If the postman is three minutes late,
    If the grocer's boy scratches your gate,
If you get the wrong number,
    If Cook has burnt the stew,
If all your rock-plants
Come up as dock-plats,
    And your tennis-court turns blue;
The reason is just simply this:
    You're in the racket, too!

The Dog Beneath the Skin would run for five hours or more if performed in full (although it's more or less unperformable), a wildly uneven 1930s forebear of The Goon Show, Monty Python, Reeves and Mortimer - that sort of thing. It's noisy, anarchic, satirical, rude and very funny - more a cabaret revue than a play, and woudl need a director such as the late Ken Campbell to bring it back to roaring life. Said director would need a supply of blue pencils, shears (not scissors) and a lot of rage. While it confirms that Auden was no Cole Porter or Irving Berlin, it does contain some of his best poetry ('The Summer holds: upon its glittering lake / Lie Europe and the islands . . .'). 

The year after Dogskin was published, Auden collaborated with Louis Macneice on the travel book Letters from Iceland. Which brings us back to the doltish and now deposed Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson,, who reportedly stashed millions away in offshore accounts as his country's economy crumbles. He's in the racket too, it seems.

Extract from The Dog Beneath the Skin (c)  The Estate of W. H. Auden

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