Norway's Wealth Fund Faces Demonstration Over Tax Havens

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Norwegian opposition parties and organizations are planning protests outside parliament in Oslo to pressure the country’s $850 billion sovereign wealth fund to dump investments in tax havens, seizing on the indignation that has followed the Panama leaks.

More than 35 groups including the Socialist Left Party, the Labor Party’s youth wing, and the Tax Justice Network are lending their support to a demonstration outside parliament in the city’s center at 6:30 p.m. local time, according to the event’s Facebook page. About 450 people have so far registered their intention to participate.

“We’ve never been closer to succeeding in getting the oil fund out of tax havens,” the event’s organizers said on the page. “More and more people are realizing that we need to put an end to secrecy and tax evasion. Change is now possible!”

The planned demonstration follows calls last week by opposition lawmakers in Norway for the sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest of its kind, to exit holdings and operations in tax havens. Revelations by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that politicians, banks, celebrities and criminals across the globe used Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca to hide wealth have caused widespread embarrassment and forced a spotlight on the culture that allowed such practices.

Iceland’s Prime Minister stepped down last week after the documents revealed he and his wife had offshore accounts, prompting protests outside the country’s parliament. The organizers of the Oslo demonstration referred to that resignation on their page, urging protesters to bring along “pots and pans in the best Icelandic style.”

Norges Bank Investment Management, a unit of Norway’s central bank that manages the fund according to guidelines given by the government, declined to comment on the planned demonstration.

“In general terms, I can say that the attention around this issue is a good thing,” spokesman Thomas Sevang said in an e-mail. “As an investor in more than 9,000 companies around the world, closed jurisdictions and tax evasion represent a financial risk for the fund. We expect the companies to exercise openness around the issue, and to receive information about how the companies relate to taxation.”

Part of the Norwegian wealth fund’s real estate unit is based in Luxembourg. While the use of low-tax bases can be perfectly legal, the Panama documents have ignited a global debate on the seemliness of continuing such practices. The fund had about $15.8 billion invested in the stocks and bonds of companies incorporated in countries on an European Commission list of the world’s top 30 tax havens, according to Bloomberg calculations from oil fund data.

A similar push in 2015 to divest in tax havens was rejected by the government and Finance Minister Siv Jensen last week defended the existing framework.

“Questions arise from time to time on individual investments that create a lot of discussion,” Jensen said. But the fund’s ethical framework already allows it to exclude companies that have “illegal or unethical corporate activity,” she said.