Norway’s Conservative leader Erna Solberg has become embroiled in a major tax row involving her husband which could have long term consequences for the country’s salmon farming industry.
Her husband, Sindre Finnes, is accused of being involved in dozens of share dealings while she was prime minister – including, allegedly, dumping some shares just as Norway was about to be placed under the Covid lockdown in March 2020, and also trading in the shares of companies affected by government energy policies.
While Finnes strongly asserts that he has not done anything illegal, opponents say his dealings were not made public until after the general election in 2021.
Solberg, who insists she knew nothing about these transactions, is coming under increased opposition demands to consider her position.
She has admitted to have broken trust and being “incompetent” in this matter during her time as prime minister.
While none of the dealings are thought to involve salmon company shares, the implications for the fish farming industry could be considerable.
Solberg has promised to either scrap or dramatically reduce the tax rate if she regains power in 2025. The Conservative party is currently riding high in the polls.
The Labour-Centre party coalition suffered heavy defeats in the municipal elections two weeks ago particularly in fish farming areas where Centre has traditionally been strong.
If Solberg is forced to go, or Conservative support falls away in the wake of the scandal, Labour could still cling onto power in 2025, particularly if Norway’s flagging economy picks up.
That would almost certainly mean the salmon tax would remain in place – and even a possible increase in the current 25% rate.
And if the Conservatives are successful, there is no guarantee a new leader would hold the same views on the tax.
Mowi CEO Ivan Vindheim has said he is prepared to wait for a change in government which would scrap the tax in its present form. He is also taking legal action against the government and SalMar has said it may do the same.
The issue is fascinating Norwegians, because Erna Solberg is a popular figure even among people who do not vote for her.
So far she has received the backing of Conservative leaders who argue she was not involved in any of the dealings.
But with her picture on every front page in Norway on a daily basis, Solberg may feel the pressure is becoming too great and resign voluntarily.
A poll by Norway’s TV-2 station shows that 50% of Conservative voters think she should resign as party leader.
The salmon industry, meanwhile, is watching nervously.