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Sweden sees red over big business tax stunts

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Sweden sees red over big business tax stunts
Sweden's Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson. Photo: Erik Nylander/TT
16:18 CEST+02:00
Swedish Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson has expressed anger after it was revealed that some of Sweden's largest multinational corporations pay little or no corporate tax.

Swedish public television SVT reported that "eight of twenty of the biggest companies in Sweden paid no or very little corporate tax in Sweden" for the tax year 2014, despite robust profits.

"Of course it makes you angry," Andersson, the Social Democratic finance minister, told the broadcaster.

"You want the companies that have the smartest products and the most efficient production to do well, not the companies that have the best tax strategies," she said.

The businesses were not in violation of any laws or rules. Rather, they devised legal strategies enabling them to pay little or no tax – a practice that is common but often frowned upon in Sweden – including offshore accounts and subsidiaries.

However, Sweden's tax agency Skatteverket said that some of the companies may be at risk of crossing the line.

"There's tax planning and perhaps even tax avoidance, and perhaps in the grey area," said Skatteverket's head legal analyst Tomas Algotson.

Andersson said her government planned to work internationally to shore up rules so that there would be fewer possibilities for tax planning in the international tax system.

The companies cited by SVT all said they followed Swedish tax rules scrupulously.

"If the regulations say that no tax is due then it's clear that no tax will be paid," the chief executive of construction firm Skanska, Johan Karlström, told SVT.

"We do not do any type of tax planning to lower our tax in any inappropriate way," Volvo Car's chief executive Håkan Samuelsson added.

The other corporations paying little or no corporate tax were the Volvo Group, SCA, Electrolux, Sandvik and Securitas, reported SVT.

In Sweden, which has one of the highest tax burdens in the world, the centre-right government in power from 2006 to 2014 gradually reduced the corporate tax rate, a policy the centre-left coalition that took power in 2014 decided not to pursue.

Since 2013, the corporate tax rate has been set at 22 percent, slashed from just over 26 percent.

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