More than 500 Norwegians admitted to tax authorities last year that they had stashed fortunes abroad, to avoid Norway’s controversial tax on net worth. The value of their overseas holdings was nearly double that reported in 2015.
Tax authorities, in an effort to prod Norwegians into revealing overseas bank accounts and other assets, have had an amnesty program of sorts for the past 10 years. Those who voluntarily disclose their hidden holdings are exempted from punitive fines. They must, however, not only pay back taxes owed on their foreign assets but also interest.
Hans Christian Holte, head of the state tax authority Skatteetaten, told newspaper Aftenposten that “the typical person” coming clean with their overseas holdings is a 50-year-old man living in southereastern Norway. “Some of them have inherited money abroad, some want to make amends before the next generation takes over their fortunes, others have simply strengthened their tax morals,” Holte said. “Many have also seen that international cooperation has been strengthened as well, and that their money abroad can be uncovered.”
Holte thinks last year’s jump in those disclosing their hidden assets abroad is tied to revelations made in the so-called Panama Papers case, in which documents leaked to journalists all over the world revealed assets stashed in tax havens. Several Norwegians were involved, while Aftenposten revealed that Norway’s biggest bank, DNB, had even assisted them through its “private banking” operation in Luxembourg. DNB later suffered public for its involvement.
Technology and cooperation agreements among most countries has made it much easier for tax authorities to discover hidden foreign assets that should have been declared on their owners’ Norwegian tax returns. “Many countries now have automatic exchange of bank account information,” Holte said. “Therefore there’s a much greater risk of being found out.”
The total of 515 people whose fortunes were revealed last year was up more than 30 percent from 2015. They collectively revealed overseas fortunes valued at NOK 13.7 billion (USD 1.7 billion), nearly double the amount in 2015. Since the tax amnesty program was launched, roughly NOK 65 billion of assets are now being taxed regularly.