Government still going after shipowners

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The Norwegian government recently lost a major tax battle with shipowners in the country’s highest court, but it’s not giving up its effort to claim back taxes. Finance Minister Sigbjørn Johnsen sent out a surprising new claim late Friday, just after most opponents were taking off on Easter holiday, and that’s riled the shipping industry and its supporters all over again.

Opposition politicians in the Parliament called the government’s claim “a provocation,” while the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association says it will “once again hurt” shipowners who had decided to do business in the country.

At issue is a lengthy conflict over taxes that were legally deferred by Norwegian owners from 1996 to 2007. That was when new tax exemptions went into effect, aimed at making Norway more competitive as a shipping nation.

But then the government tried to claim the taxes deferred in earlier years and it all ended in court. In February, Norway’s Supreme Court ruled the government had no claim on the tax money.

Now the government says it will forgive NOK 10 billion in back taxes but that shipowners must pay in around NOK 4 billion in order to take part in new tax-free schemes. Johnsen calls it a “reasonable” method for shipowners to satisfy earlier tax obligations.

It’s unlikely the individual shipowners will find it “reasonable,” and new battles loomed, but some shipowners later said they may just go along with the new tax claim, to avoid another protracted court battle.

Views and News staff