Real estate tycoon Olav Thon has once again emerged as one of Norway’s wealthiest men and biggest taxpayers. Unlike many who work hard to avoid paying taxes, Thon posed for the front page of Norwegian business daily Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Friday, when the country’s public tax lists were released, and made it clear he’s proud of his big tax bill and glad to pay it.
The colourful 88-year-old investor and businessman has actually now set a record for paying the most taxes in Norway. He and his private companies have paid nearly NOK 4 billion in taxes over the past 15 years and Thon alone has paid NOK 915 million since he reached retirement age. Far from retiring, however, Thon remains active in his businesses which include the Thon hotel chain, shopping center operations and a long list of commercial office properties.
He’s always gone his own way, pointedly shunning the trappings of wealth by wearing intentionally unfashionable clothing and a Swatch watch instead of a Rolex. “When others eat goose liver that makes them fat and lazy, I eat dry bread and am in excellent shape in my 89th year,” Thon told DN.
He views paying taxes as a privilege and part of his social responsibility, and DN estimated that it cost him and his businesses roughly NOK 1.15 million (USD 200,000) per day last year. He cheerfully notes that while people beyond retirement age are usually looked upon as a burden on society, he’s contributed nearly NOK 4 billion to the state treasury since turning 73.
Thon insists he doesn’t flaunt his tax contribution as a means of pressuring state and municipal officials in areas where he has business interests. He did, however, send a tough letter to the head of Oslo’s city planning agency recently to protest a city prohibition on the remodelling of one of his commercial properties. He wanted to install a wider door on the building, but city officials rejected the request.
“I do think the authorities should be better oriented about what business interests mean for the society,” Thon told DN. “Their paychecks are made up of the tax money from businesses they often fight against.”
Thon, originally from the mountain village of Ål in Hallingdal, has no children and has earlier said he intends to give away his fortune when he dies. He’s also donated funds and property to various causes over the years, including the trekking association DNT. Thon remains an active cross-country skier.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund