Tax lists released, snooping reduced

Bookmark and Share

Norwegian tax authorities have once again made public what millions of taxpayers in Norway actually paid in tax last year, along with the taxable amounts of their income and net worth. Not nearly as many people are snooping through the online lists, though, since their identities can also be revealed.

The numbers of curiosity seekers, keen to check what their friends or foes earned and paid into public coffers, have plummeted since the authorities introduced another level of openness in Norway’s tax system. It took effect last year and now everyone using the system must log in with their own tax identities, and that information in turn is logged in the system. Individual taxpayers can thus check who, if anyone, has searched for and seen their own tax information. The so-called “snoopers” will then show up with their names, postal address and birthdates on the screen.

Lost the veil of anonymity
Hardly anyone thus dares to surf through the lists, which just a few years ago were fair game for everyone and linked to by Norwegian newssites to boost traffic. “Many hesitate now to search out of pure curiosity because they can’t do it anonymously anymore,” Anne Kirkhusmo of the state tax agency Skatteetaten told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday morning.

Over the past year, the numbers of people clicking into the lists fell by 89 percent from the year before. Kirkhusmo said the number of searches fell from 17 million in 2013 to just over 2 million last year.

The roughly 2 million searches were conducted by 502,103 so-called “unique visitors,” indicating that curiosity or need for individuals’ tax information still exists. Newspaper Aftenposten also noted that it’s still possible to search anonymously, if the searcher is willing to pay for it. Various firms offer to search on behalf of others, in return for around NOK 100-200 (USD 12-24 at current exchange rates).

Hans Christian Holte, director of the tax agency, defends publication of the tax lists in Norway, which has a long tradition of making them open and available. Before the Internet became available, curious Norwegians could stroll down to City Hall in their respective communities and scroll through huge tax register books and later, computer printouts of the tax rolls. Many tax cheats have been uncovered because of tips from members of the public who spotted unusually low income, net worth or levels of taxes paid among people they knew.

Power investor tops in taxes paid
Norwegian media outlets continue to have full and open access to the lists, and report heavily from them even though the figures are all adjusted for tax purposes and don’t necessarily reflect real income or market values. The most certain figures are taxes actually paid, often referred to as the amount the taxpayer “contributed to fellowship” in Norway.

This year a businessman in the southern coastal town of Grimstad, topped the list again. Einar Aas, a low-profile investor who earned his fortune by investing in power companies, paid a total of NOK 149.6 million in tax for 2014, on taxable income of NOK 501.9 million and a taxable fortune of NOK 1.4 billion.

Retired Bergen businessman and philanthropist Trond Mohn and his son Fredrik Wilhelm Mohn paid the next largest amounts of tax, with the elder Mohn paying NOK 138.6 million in tax on income of NOK 295.2 million and a fortune of NOK 5.8 billion. His son paid NOK 120.3 million on income of NOK 239.7 million and a fotune listed at NOK 5.5 billion.

Industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke, who made his initial fortune in the fishing industry and now controls the Aker industrial group among other ventures, ranked fourth on the list of tax paid, at NOK 101 million, but his taxable income of zero indicates the special aspects of the tax system’s figures. As with many others, Røkke’s tax was likely based entirely on his taxable net worth, listed at NOK 10 billion. In many cases, taxpayers with little declared or taxable income still pay millions in tax because of their personal fortunes that are liable to Norway’s controversial formueskatt (literally, fortune tax). Several young Norwegians who have inherited fortunes but are still students or otherwise not generating income also are subject to the tax, usually around 1 percent on the taxable amount of their assets.

Rounding out the top five taxpayers in Norway was investor, businessman and philanthropist Christen Sveaas, who paid NOK 80.7 million in tax on income of NOK 255.2 million and a taxable fortune of NOK 1.2 billion.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund