In 2004, Hjalti Sigurjon Hauksson was imprisoned for raping his stepdaughter nearly every day for 12 years, starting when she was just 5. Thirteen years later, his crime has helped bring down Iceland's government.
The story involves Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson and his father, Benedikt Sveinsson.
Here's what happened: Several months ago, Sveinsson drafted a letter of recommendation for Hauksson, arguing that he should have his “honor restored.” In Iceland, convicts can have certain civil rights restored by submitting letters of recommendation extolling good character. Hauksson and another convicted pedophile, Robert Downey (formerly named Robert Arni Hreidarsson), received full pardons over the summer.
Those decisions “rattled Icelandic society,” according to Iceland Magazine. As a reporter explains: “Public and media have spent much of summer discussing the two cases and the horrifying world of violence and abuse they revealed.”
Soon after, one of Downey's victims launched a campaign urging the government to release the letters of support for Downey and Hauksson. But the Justice Ministry refused to respond to questions on the matter.
This week, a parliamentary committee ruled that the administration was violating freedom-of-information laws by keeping the names a secret. So the letters were released to the news media. Even more damning: On Thursday, Iceland's justice minister, Sigridur Andersen, told television news reporters that she had informed the prime minister of his father's involvement in July. She said she told no one else.
That disclosure, which smacked of a coverup, sent shock waves through Iceland's political class and threatened the fragile three-party coalition that put Benediktsson in power last year.
To secure a majority, his Independence Party joined forces with the centrists and the Bright Future coalition, squeaking in with a razor-thin majority of 32 out of 63 seats. On Friday, Bright Future voted unanimously to leave the government. The letter “was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” a Bright Future insider told the news agency Reuters. “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.”
Bright Future's decision left Benediktsson without a majority. He called his behavior a “serious breach of trust” and dissolved his government. “We have lost the majority, and I don't see anything that indicates we can regain that,” he told reporters. He has called for speedy elections, aiming for November.
This isn't Benediktsson's first controversy. His name and his father's appeared in the Panama Papers, connected to offshore tax havens and a controversial sale of state assets.
In a statement, Benediktsson's father apologized for signing the letter of support for Hauksson, an old friend. “I have never considered the restored honor as anything except a legal procedure making it possible for convicted criminals to regain some civil rights,” Sveinsson said, according to the BBC. “I did not think of it as something that would justify Hjalti's position toward his victim. I told Hjalti to face his action and to repent.”
Hauksson's victim called the situation surreal. In interviews with Icelandic media, she said Hauksson has continued to harass her, even approaching her 6-year-old daughter while she was on a field trip. Hauksson was working as a bus driver at the time.