Actor Depardieu bids ‘adieu’ to France to avoid taxes
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French cinema's leading man Gérard Depardieu has set up his home in a Belgian town straddling the French border to avoid paying taxes in his home country, a local mayor has confirmed.
France’s most famous leading man, Gérard Depardieu, has joined the flight of France’s wealthy to less tax-heavy destinations, establishing his residency in the Belgian border town of Néchin.
A local mayor told French and Belgian media that seeking a respite from high taxes was just one of Depardieu’s reasons for leaving his native country. “He wanted to find a home in Belgium to escape France’s taxes, but he could have also moved to Brussels," Mayor Daniel Senesael told Belgium’s RTBF television on Sunday. "He wanted to leave Paris, its noisiness, and find a little bit of calm, peace and serenity.”
Senesael told RTL radio that Depardieu was also interested in Belgian culture and Néchin's "rural, bucolic setting”.
Rumours about Depardieu’s search for a more tax-friendly destination first hit the Belgian and French media in November.
In reaction to the departure of France’s most famous and best-paid actor, Jean-François Copé, head of the conservative opposition UMP party, said he would not judge Depardieu, warning that France risked losing its fortunes “permanently” if it did not adopt tax rates on par with neighbouring European countries.
Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, a leading figure in the ruling Socialist Party, said he knew the actor personally and criticised him for failing to act with his customary generosity – toward the French state, at least.
Nathalie Arthaud, the spokeswoman for France’s far-left Worker’s Struggle party, said she thought it was fine for the super-wealthy like Depardieu to pay more. “We need a law against tax evasion to force the rich to pay their due,” she said.
Just beyond the taxman’s reach
Barely one kilometre from the French town of Roubaix, the Belgian town of Néchin has built a reputation for welcoming wealthy tax evaders. The Mulliez family, who control the French supermarket chain Auchan and the Decathlon chain of sports equipment stores, are among the town’s residents.
Depardieu, 63, gained worldwide fame for his role in the 1990 Hollywood film Green Card, but in recent years has played the role of the portly Obelix in a handful of French comedies based on the Asterix comic book series.
His self-imposed exile will make him one of the highest-profile celebrities to ditch France because of the country’s stiff taxes on high earners. French President François Hollande has made good on his campaign promise to tax revenues above €1 million at a rate of 75 percent.
In September, the president’s ruling Socialist government unveiled a string of deficit-busting measures, including the infamous levy on millionaires and a new 45 percent rate for those earning above €150,000 per year.
France's wealthiest man and CEO of the luxury goods retailer LVMH, Bernard Arnault, sparked controversy earlier this year by applying for Belgian nationality. However, Arnault denied he was joining an exodus of France’s wealthy, insisting his tax home would remain in France.
The well-to-do in France began establishing Belgian residency long before Hollande came to power in May of this year. Belgium does not have an equivalent of France’s fortune tax and its inheritance laws are more favourable to beneficiaries. Néchin alone is said to be home to over 2,800 French nationals.
Reports of his tax evasion plans are the latest in a string of bad press for Depardieu. Last month he was detained after falling off his scooter in Paris and failing a subsequent alcohol test. He made headlines again last week after recording a duet with the daughter of Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, who has been heavily criticised for heading one of Europe’s most repressive regimes.
Depardieu outraged fellow passengers in August 2011 by urinating in the aisle of an Air France flight as it prepared to take off, forcing the plane to turn back.