Gerard Depardieu: French actor, in tax fight, gets Russian citizenship

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MOSCOW (AP) — Gerard Depardieu, the French actor who has waged a battle against a proposed supertax on millionaires in his native country, has been granted Russian citizenship.

A brief announcement on the Kremlin website on Thursday revealed that President Vladimir Putin signed the citizenship grant following an application from the actor.

The former Oscar nominee and star of the movie “Green Card” has been vocal in his opposition to French President Francois Hollande’s plans to raise the tax on earned income above 1 million euros ($1.33 million) to 75 percent from the current high of 41 percent. Russia has a flat 13 percent tax rate.

“I have never killed anyone, I don’t think I’ve been unworthy, I’ve paid €145 million [$190.05 million) in taxes over 45 years,” Mr. Depardieu wrote in an open letter in mid-December to Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who had called the actor “pathetic.”

“I will neither complain nor brag, but I refuse to be called ‘pathetic,’” the 64-year-old actor wrote in his response.

A representative for the former Oscar nominee declined to say whether he had accepted the Russian offer, and refused all comment. Thursday was a holiday in Russia, and officials from the Federal Tax Service and Federal Migration Service could not be reached for comment on whether the decision would require Mr. Depardieu to have a residence in Russia.

Mr. Depardieu said in his letter to Mr. Ayrault that he would surrender his passport and French social security card. In October, the mayor of a small Belgian border town announced that Mr. Depardieu had bought a house and set up legal residence there, a move that was slammed by the newly-elected Socialist government.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the French government spokeswoman, didn’t comment directly on Mr. Depardieu’s tax fight but drew a clear distinction between people who have personal or professional reasons to live abroad and “French citizens who proclaim loudly and clearly that they they’re exiling themselves for fiscal reasons.”

She said Mr. Putin’s offer “is an exclusive prerogative of the Russian chief of state.”

Mr. Depardieu has had increasingly high-profile ties with Russia. In October he visited the capital of Chechnya, Grozny, to celebrate the birthday of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. And in 2011, he was in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region to play the lead role in the film “Rasputin.”

“You have to understand that Depardieu is a star in Russia,” Vladimir Fedorovski, a Russian writer living in France, told the network Europe 1 on Thursday. “There are crowds around Depardieu. He’s a symbol of France. He’s a huge ambassador of French culture.”

Though France’s highest court struck down the two-year tax on Dec. 29, the government has promised to resubmit the law in a slightly different form soon. On Wednesday it estimated that the court decision to overturn the tax would cost it 210 million euros ($275.28 million) in 2013.

In an interview published Sunday, Mr. Depardieu told the Sunday Parisien that the court decision made no difference.

France’s debt burden is around 90 percent of national income — not far off levels that have caused problems elsewhere in the 17-country eurozone.

Mr. Depardieu has made more than 150 films, among them the 1991 comedy “Green Card,” about a man who enters into a marriage of convenience in order to get U.S. residency. Most famously, Mr. Depardieu was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1990 film by the same name.

The Kremlin statement gave no information on why Mr. Putin made the citizenship grant, but the Russian president expressed sympathy with the actor in December, days after Mr. Depardieu reportedly said he was considering Russian citizenship.

“As we say, artists are easily offended, and therefore I understand the feelings of Mr. Depardieu,” Mr. Putin said.

Although France and Russia disagree sharply about how to resolve the civil war in Syria, the two countries have strong commercial relations. In 2011, Russia signed a contract worth more than 1 billion euros ($1.33 billion) Friday to buy two French warships — the largest military deal between a NATO country and Moscow.

Mr. Depardieu is well known in Russia, where he appears in an ad for Sovietsky Bank’s credit card and is prominently featured on the bank’s home page.

Mr. Depardieu is not the only high-profile Frenchman to object to the supertax. Bernard Arnault, chief of the luxury goods and fashion giant LVMH who is worth an estimated $41 billion, also has said he would leave for Belgium.

France’s Civil Code says one must have another nationality in order to give up French citizenship because it is forbidden to be stateless. Thursday’s decision by the Kremlin appears to fulfill that requirement.

• Lori Hinnant reported from Paris. Silvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this article.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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