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Tycoon denounces 'trench warfare' against wealthy

Text by Ben MCPARTLAND

Latest update : 2012-12-23

A UK-bound French tycoon has fanned the flames of the bitter row over the tax system by saying France is engaged in “trench warfare” against the rich and successful, and the current atmosphere was a throwback to the days of the French Revolution.

France’s town halls might not be dusting down the old guillotines just yet but according to one London-bound French tycoon, the current atmosphere in the country harks back to a more bloody period of French history. 

Alain Afflelou, who runs an international chain of opticians, has slammed what he sees as the hostile attitude in France towards the wealthy and big business, claiming it feels like a return to the days of the guillotine and the French Revolution.
 
“We are going back to 1789, we need to stop saying that business leaders are thugs, thieves and dishonest people,” Afflelou told French radio RTL.
 
Afflelou, 64, announced this week he was moving to the British capital for business reasons.
 
His relocation comes at a particularly sensitive time as the country is embroiled in an increasingly divisive and bitter row over the impact of the Socialist government’s tax policies, most notably the controversial  75 percent rate for top earners.
 
Some insist the levy will cause an exodus of entrepreneurs, and point to the recent and highly contentious decision by acclaimed actor Gerard Depardieu to head for self-imposed tax exile in Belgium.  
 
Although Afflelou insists he is only moving to London for “two to three years” at the request of shareholders keen to expand the business, he denounced the country’s “unjust and confiscatory tax system".
 
Echoing the gripes of other business leaders and right-wing politicians, Afflelou said France was engaged in “trench warfare” towards “entrepreneurs and those who want to succeed”.
 
“The tax system in France is extremely unfavourable towards business leaders and those who are looking to start out,” he said. 
 
Afflelou has vowed to continue to pay taxes in whichever country he owes them. “I will pay what I have to pay in the UK and I will pay what I have to in France,” he said.
 
The recent dispute over the impact of the French government’s tax policies can be traced back to September when it emerged that the country’s richest man Bernard Arnault, head of the LVMH luxury goods empire LVMH, had applied for Belgian citizenship. 
 
The move sparked fears Arnault was moving his fortune abroad to take it off the radar of the French taxman. Arnault however, has firmly denied his application for Belgian nationality was motivated by tax reasons.
 
Nevertheless the question of tax exiles continues to polarise France with the leader of business union Medef, Laurence Parisot, describing the row as a “civil war”.
 
An OpinionWay poll taken last week showed 46% of respondents were behind Depardieu whereas 47% of those surveyed supported Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who blasted the actor’s move into exile as “pathetic”.
 
Naturally the issue continues to dominate headlines throughout France’s media.
 
In a front page editorial on Saturday, right-wing daily Le Figaro argued that many more less high-profile entrepreneurs are seeking to leave France to make their fortunes elsewhere. Depardieu was “a tree hiding the forest,” Le Figaro said.
 
France’s Socialist government however continue to defend their stance and even mooted the idea of taxing those who quit the country. 
 
Budget minister Jerôme Cahuzac spoke of wanting to avoid a situation “where those who decide to live outside the frontiers of France ignore their fiscal obligations to the country of their birth”.
 

Date created : 2012-12-23

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