Iceland Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson
Iceland Prime Minister Bjarni BenediktssonReuters

About 14 years ago, in the year 2004, Sigurjon Hauksson was jailed for raping his stepdaughter for 12 years from the time she was just five years old.

Now, thirteen years later, his crime has brought down Iceland's government. The story involves Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson and his father Benedikt Sveinsson.

The backstory

Many months ago, Sveinsson drafted a letter of recommendation for Sigurjon Hauksson, arguing he should have his "honour restored". In Iceland, felons can get back certain civil rights by submitting letters of recommendation displaying good conduct.

Hauksson and another convicted paedophile, Robert Downey (formerly named Robert Arni Hreidarsson), received full pardons over the summer.

Those decisions "shocked 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 started a campaign demanding the government to make public the letters of support for Downey and Hauksson. But the Justice ministry refused to respond to questions on the subject, The Washington Post reported.

This week, a parliamentary committee ruled that the government was violating freedom of information laws by not revealing the names after which the letters were released to the news media.

Child abuse
[Representational Image]Creative Commons

On Thursday, Sigridur Andersen, Iceland's justice minister, told media that she had informed the prime minister of his father's role in drafting recommendation letters back in June. 

Fragile Alliance

That revelation, which exposed a cover-up, sent shock waves through Iceland's political class and threatened the delicate three-party alliance that put Benediktsson in power in 2016.

To secure a majority, his Independence Party got allied with the centrists and the Bright Future coalition, making 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 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."

With Bright Future's decision, Benediktsson was left without a majority. "We have lost the majority, and I don't see anything that indicates we can regain that," he told reporters. 

Previously, Benediktsson's and his father's names came up in the Panama Papers in connection with offshore tax havens.

In a statement, Benediktsson's father apologised for signing the letter of support for his old friend. "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," BBC quoted him as saying.