Royal fortunes spur tax demands

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Norway’s King Harald has inherited and accumulated a large fortune over the years, but the palace won’t reveal how big it is or what makes it up, and the monarch pays no tax. A new book suggests he should, and leading politicians within all three government parties seem to agree.

King Harald and Queen Sonja have a substantial fortune but pay no tax. PHOTO: Kongehuset.no

The book, written by former palace official and political scientist Carl-Erik Grimstad, details the royal inheritances handed down by the late King Haakon and his wife, the former British princess Queen Maud. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Monday that the value of King Harald’s fortune is estimated at as much as NOK 837 million after being adjusted for inflation and exchange rates.

Danish and British inheritance
Grimstad writes in his book, released on Monday, that King Haakon inherited 25,000 pounds sterling from his Danish family in 1896. Haakon’s father was the king of Denmark and his mother was also a former British princess.

Some of the royal fortune stems from the estate of Queen Maud, a former British princess. This statue of Queen Maud stands just outside the Royal Palace in Oslo. PHOTO: Views and News

In 1925, Queen Maud inherited GBP 100,000, most of it managed by the British aristocracy’s preferred financial institution, Coutts Bank. The couple also received a substantial amount from the British royal family when they married along with a royal property in England, and the British government paid Maud an annual fixed amount, according to Grimstad.

Newspaper Aftenposten reports that King Haakon and the British monarchs quarreled over Maud’s inheritance and when she died in 1938, the Norwegian royal family was forced to give up the British royal property, Appleton House at Sandringham, where Norway’s then-Crown Prince Olav (King Harald’s father) was born.

Grimstad, who was granted access to the archives of Maud’s secretary Sir Henry Knolly, writes that Haakon also had to give up 9,000 of the 38,000 pounds sterling that Maud brought into the marriage, in order for then-King Edward to recognize Norway’s sovereignty. 

Foreign assets
The Norwegian royal family is nonetheless believed to still have an extensive fortune outside of Norway, in addition to its assets at home. The actual value of the Norwegian royal family’s fortunes remain unclear, however, because the palace refuses to answer questions about it.

“This is something we don’t inform about,” palace communications chief Marianne Hagen told DN. Asked why not, Hagen declined comment.

Staff at the Royal Palace won't answer questions about the value of King Harald's fortune. PHOTO: Views and News

That sort of secrecy doesn’t sit well with either Grimstad or several members of Norway’s parliament.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that the King has an unknown fortune abroad, because in a small, open and democratic society like Norway’s, we depend on everyone playing with open cards,” Thomas Breen, spokesman for the Labour Party on tax policy issues, told DN. “When we operate with an active policy to reveal hidden fortunes overseas, it sends a bad signal that we let the royal family keep their overseas holdings hidden.”

Breen says he’s also open to imposing the fortune tax on the royal family to which everyone else in Norway is subjected. “The first thing is to get some openness, because when I as a politician am asked to appropriate funds for the royal family, I would like to know the size of their fortunes,” Breen said. “Then we need to evaluate what kind of sums we’re talking about, before imposing any tax.”

Per Olaf Lundteigen, finance police spokesman for the Center Party, supports Breen’s demand for openness, as does Lars Egeland of the third party making up Norway’s coalition government, the Socialist Left.

“I have no reason to believe the royal family has a hidden agenda, but openness would eliminate speculation,” Egeland told DN.

Royal tax avoidance
Even though neither King Harald, Queen Sonja nor Crown Prince Haakon pay tax, the king has engaged in tax planning, reports DN. He contacted his lawyers when it became clear that his daughter, Princess Martha Louise, would need to pay inheritance tax on a property she was inheriting from January 1, 2002. It was arranged for the princess to take over the property just before New Year that year, according to DN, and she thereby avoided paying millions in tax.

The Royal Palace reported last week, meanwhile, that both the palace staff, the king and queen. and the crown prince and his wife Crown Princess Mette-Marit spent more money last year than they received in royal allowances. The royal income accounts are public, and palace staff blamed the losses mostly on more renovations and maintenance costs at the palace itself and other royal properties.

The losses were covered by royal capital accounts.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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