Eight former Norwegian police officers hired by the US Embassy in Oslo to carry out controversial surveillance on behalf of the embassy are now being hit with fines and face prison terms for failing to report their embassy income to Norwegian tax authorities.
The surveillance, first revealed two years ago by TV2, set off debate that culminated on the floor of the Norwegian Parliament. Surveillance of Norwegian citizens without their knowledge is a particularly sensitive issue in Norway, and the only entity legally allowed to carry it out is police intelligence agency PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste). Norwegian government officials including then-Justice Minister Knut Storberget said the US officials did not have permission for the embassy’s secret operation nor did Storberget have any knowledge of it, some of which was carried out from the top floor of a building adjacent to the embassy that was quickly vacated after the operation was revealed.
Adding to the controversy was the revelation that the Norwegians carrying out the surveillance were suspected of tax evasion on earnings of as much as NOK 2 million. The embassy had reportedly paid them directly with no deductions withheld, leaving it to the men to report their extra income. Eight of them failed to do so, and TV2 now reports that Norway’s Finance Ministry, state tax authorities and prosecutors agree that none of the eight qualified for tax amnesty.
That means they now must pay the full amount of taxes owed, interest on the amount plus fines. They also risk prison terms for tax evasion. They had applied for tax amnesty when news of their secret surveillance operation broke and police in Østfold County, which investigated the operation because police in Oslo were subject to conflicts of interest, had granted it. That’s now been overturned.
Finance Minister Sigbjørn Johnsen decline to provide more detailed information the case, because of privacy rules within the Norwegian tax law.