Indian tax officials freeze Nokia's assets amid tax dispute with govt

Nokia's flag outside the flagship store of Finnish mobile phone manufacturer Nokia in Helsink. The Indian authorities have frozen some of Finnish telecom giant Nokia's assets, the company said on Tuesday, amid a 20 billion rupee (S$400 million)
Nokia's flag outside the flagship store of Finnish mobile phone manufacturer Nokia in Helsink. The Indian authorities have frozen some of Finnish telecom giant Nokia's assets, the company said on Tuesday, amid a 20 billion rupee (S$400 million) tax dispute with the New Delhi government. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

MUMBAI (AFP) - The Indian authorities have frozen some of Finnish telecom giant Nokia's assets, the company said on Tuesday, amid a 20 billion rupee (S$400 million) tax dispute with the New Delhi government.

Tax authorities froze Nokia's bank accounts as well as fixed assets, such as buildings, last week, forcing the company to head to the High Court which ordered some of them released, Nokia said in a statement.

Nokia said it has regained access to its bank accounts but some fixed assets remain frozen. It was unclear whether one of its biggest plants worldwide, located in the southern Indian city of Chennai, was targeted in the action.

Nokia is among a string of multinationals to have become embroiled in tax disputes in India, including Cadbury, Royal Dutch Shell and Vodafone.

"Late last week, the Delhi High Court ruled in Nokia's favour in a case where the Indian tax authorities froze some of Nokia's assets for potential claims that hadn't even been raised against the company yet," said a statement from Nokia sent via an e-mail message to AFP on Tuesday.

"We are now working closely with the tax authorities to ensure that the parties will find a comprehensive solution to the remaining open issues, and discussions have been constructive," it said.

The company does not believe the assets freeze will affect a US$7.2 billion (S$9 billion) global deal with Microsoft, which has agreed to take over Nokia's handset business, according to local media reports.

However Nokia, in a separate e-mail message to AFP, declined to comment on the deal.

India has stepped up its pursuit of alleged tax offenders to reduce a hefty budget deficit, but the high-profile disputes have raised alarm among international investors about what they see as arbitrary tax demands.

Tax officials earlier this year raided Nokia's Chennai factory as part of its investigations.

"Contrary to speculation in the media, Nokia has sufficient assets in India to meet its tax obligations, details of which will be shared with the tax authorities to allay any concerns they may have," the statement on Tuesday said, without commenting further.