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Friday, 11 October, 2002, 20:30 GMT 21:30 UK
Norwegian tax office tells all online
World Health Organization head Gro Harlem Brundtland
WHO boss Brundtland has net assets of $76,000
Ever wanted to know how much your boss makes? The man in the office next door who's always at lunch? Your neighbour with the flash new car?

In Norway it's all just a mouse-click away.

On Thursday, the financial details of all Norwegian taxpayers was published on the internet - provoking fierce debate in the prosperous Scandinavian country of 4.5 million inhabitants.

Norwegian tax returns have been public information since 1863, but until now it was only possible to see other people's figures by applying in person at a tax office.

Now curious web surfers can find out their bosses and colleagues' tax details.

'Necessary gossip'

It is also possible to obtain taxation details through a text-messaging service for mobile phones.

The mass disclosure prompted the head of the Norwegian data protection authority to ask for the practice to be stopped.

However, leading Norwegian daily Aftenposten defended the exercise, describing it as "necessary gossip" in an editorial.

"Originally, the point was that everyone should act as watchdogs and check if their neighbour was paying enough tax," the paper said. "This still applies."

However, its readers don't agree.

One says it is "completely unreasonable to pass this information to the masses" and another calls it a "pathetic demonstration of the culture of envy".

Unwelcome offers

There were two reasons behind the decision to make tax information publicly available nearly 140 years ago.

It was felt that making information available to those with the greatest interest in individual returns - neighbours and fellow villagers - would have a regulatory function.

However, the practice has not always been popular.

Last year football agent Einar Baardsen took the Norwegian state to court, arguing that publicity about his income led to him receiving dubious investment offers.

He also stated that the police had found criminals in possession of copies of local tax lists and claimed that publication breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case never came to court.

Actress and director Liv Ullmann
Actress Ullmann was taxed on income of 235,900 kroner but has assets of 9m kroner
The Norwegian parliament last debated the issue two years ago, when a proposed ban on publication was defeated by 70 votes to 18.

According to the latest figures, Norway's richest man is industrialist and fishing magnate Kjell Inge Roekke, who had capital of 3.8 billion kroner (329m; $515m) on 31 December 2001, but no taxable income for the year.

The tax figures for 2001 show that Norway has 12 kroner billionaires, seven of whom live in the capital, Oslo. One billion kroner is roughly equivalent to 87m/$135m.

Income figures show net income after all deductions. This means that financially-savvy Norwegians will show taxable incomes much lower than their gross income.

Links to more Media reports stories are at the foot of the page.


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