For first time, Norway's wealth fund ditches firms over tax transparency

Norwegian sovereign wealth fund CEO Tangen attends a news conference in Oslo
Nicolai Tangen, the incoming CEO of the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund speaks during a news conference at the central bank in Oslo, Norway, May 28, 2020. Picture taken May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Gwladys Fouche/File Photo

OSLO, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Norway's $1.3 trillion wealth fund, the world's largest, has for the first time pulled investments from companies because of their tax policies, the fund's CEO told Reuters, adding more such moves were likely in future.

One of the world's largest investors, the fund holds stakes in around 9,200 companies globally, owning 1.5% of all listed stocks. It has set the pace on a host of issues in the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) field.

Nicolai Tangen, who took over the fund in September, said it had sold out of seven companies last year due to "aggressive tax planning and cases where companies do not give information of where, and how, they pay tax."

He said the companies were small, but declined to give their names and business sectors so as not to give the impression the fund has a blacklist of companies regarding their ESG practices.

"You can expect more activity in this area," he added.

In 2016, Norwegian lawmakers ordered the fund to be more involved in global efforts to combat tax havens.

As a result, in 2017, the fund issued its first "expectation document" on tax transparency, a document it distributes to the boards of all the companies it is invested in about what the fund wants them to do on a particular issue, in this case, tax transparency.

The fund will revise that expectation document and publish an update in the spring, Tangen said. He did not say what specific topics could be updated in the document.

Overall, he said, companies should pay tax where the value creation takes place. "How they disclose their tax situation and the level of transparency they have (is important)," he said.

In Europe, global tech companies in particular have come under fire for channelling profits through low tax countries and paying little tax in some states where they make vast revenues.

Editing by Mark Potter

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