Shipowners win huge tax victory

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Norway’s highest court handed shipowners a major victory over the state on Friday, ruling they were not liable to collectively pay NOK 21 billion in back taxes.

The decision was a crushing blow for the government and former Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen, who had insisted that the shipowners should pay taxes built up from 1996 until 2007, when tax rules were changed and shipowners could operate from Norway with virtually no tax liability. In return, the government tried to lay claim to taxes on operations in prior years.
The shipowners, led by Bergen-based owner Elisabeth Grieg (photo) and the Norwegian Shipowners Association, claimed that violated the Norwegian constitution, which prohibits retroactive liability.
Various firms had sued over the years, with mixed results. Some won in Oslo courts, others lost in courts elsewhere in the country. The Supreme Court in Oslo heard the appeal of one of those losses and sided, by narrow margin, with the shipowners.
One of their attorneys called the ruling “important for all taxpayers,” because it means Norwegians shall pay tax in accordance with existing laws, not those that come later. Current Finance Minister Sigbjørn Johnsen said the government would study the high court’s ruling and otherwise had little comment.
By Views and News staff