Tax lists released, with restrictions

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Norwegian media could once again trumpet who ranks as Norway’s wealthiest persons according  to Norwegian tax lists released on Friday, which reveal the incomes and fortunes of most of the country’s population. The lists always set off a media frenzy, but there were some restrictions this year.

Johan H Andresen, who has transformed a tobacco inheritance into a wide range of business ventures, ranks as the richest person in Norway. PHOTO: Ferd

Since the advent of the Internet, media websites have enjoyed watching traffic soar after posting links that allowed curious Norwegians to search the lists to see what their friends, enemies, family or colleagues have reported as their earnings and net worth (formue) in the previous year. It’s all considered public information in Norway, but those snooping through the lists should be aware that the numbers don’t necessarily reflect reality. Published incomes are almost always far less than actual income, because they’re adjusted for deductions, while net worth figures are also much less than actual net worth. That’s because they also reflect assessed tax valuations of real estate, for example, not market value, and many other assets are depreciated.

Yet the numbers always attract attention and serve as the “official” compilation of  who has the largest net worth and who earns the most. The wealthiest person this year was tobacco heir and investor Johan H Andresen, who inherited a fortune from the Tiedemanns tobacco group and since has parlayed it into a number of successful business ventures. He’s currently trying his hand at real estate development, creating an entirely new housing community at Ensjø on Oslo’s east side, where Tiedemanns ran its tobacco operations. Andresen’s net worth was listed at just over NOK 12 billion (USD 2.2 billion), his income at NOK 20.6 million and he paid NOK 138.88 million in taxes to the state treasury.

Next wealthiest was industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke, whose taxable income was listed as zero (indicating the altered reality of the tax lists) but whose fortune was listed at NOK 7.9 billion. He paid NOK 87.3 million in taxes to Norway. Real estate tycoon Olav Thon was third on the list, with income of NOK 76 million, a fortune of 7.7 billion and a tax bill of nearly NOK 116 million. The 88-year-old Thon told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Friday that he, for one, is proud of setting a new record for paying taxes in Norway and has said he plans to give away his fortune.

Mohn earned the most
Trond Mohn of Bergen, who earned a fortune in the oil service industry, ranked at the top of the income list for 2010, with taxable income of NOK 359.3 million and a fortune of NOK 3.75 billion. Mohn is a well-known philanthropist in Norway who also paid taxes of NOK 142 million.

Ranking second on the income list is investor and industrialist Christen Sveaas, who’s active in many branches ranging from shipping to restaurants and had taxable earnings of NOK 318.2 million. He paid NOK 99.4 million taxes and listed a fortune of NOK 911.6 million.

See Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s compilations here (external link, in Norwegian).

Complaints over abuse of the tax lists prompted the Norwegian Parliament to make it more difficult to search online for individuals’ income, tax and net worth. Media outlets can still receive the lists and use information from them for stories, but no longer can publish them directly.

The lists officially remain in the public domain, though, and can be accessed through the state tax agency Skatteetaten, but only after a user logs in and searches for the link.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund