In his celebrated acting career spanning four decades, Gérard Depardieu has played such beloved French figures as Cyrano de Bergerac, cartoon hero Obélix, and the Count of Monte Cristo. Now Depardieu is being cast by the French media in an entirely different and distinctly modern role: a money-grubbing, duty-shirking tax refugee.
Belgian and French press reports Monday quoted officials in Belgium confirming the 64-year old performer has moved into a house he bought in the village of Néchin, just one mile from the French border. Speculation is rampant that the move has allowed Depardieu to shift his legal residence to Belgium to dodge the 75% tax on income over $1.27 million that Socialist President François Hollande will apply as of 2013 as part of his response to France’s debt crisis. The nation salutes your fiscal patriotism, Gégé.
Depardieu would scarcely be alone in making that move. Scores of wealthy French citizens have established residency in lower-tax havens like Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg over the past years — with thousands who’d left before. Around 2,800 French nationals were already living in the Néchin area before Depardieu joined them. Of the roughly 200,000 French citizens registered as residents in the kingdom, 5,000 are thought to be fleeing the heavier-handed French tax collector in favor of Belgian laws that pinch salaries, but leave capital gains, inherited money, or accumulated wealth alone. Over the decades, Depardieu — a staunch supporter of former President Nicolas Sarkozy — has used his income from cinema work to finance a host of very lucrative restaurant, wine, and real estate investments.
Sensitivity to tax expatriates has increased since Hollande moved to raise France’s top rate to 75%. In September, news that France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, was seeking Belgian citizenship sparked a national tempest. The hubbub led Arnault, the CEO of luxury goods giant LVMH, to publicly pledge he’d continue paying his taxes in France. If Depardieu’s Belgian residency is confirmed, it’s unlikely the actor will follow Arnault’s example.
Unlike Arnault, Depardieu seems impervious to negative press coverage — and seems to cultivate as much of it as he can get. Last year the actor shrugged off an avalanche of attention when he was kicked off an Air France flight for urinating in the aisle before take off. Last month he was held by police in Paris after reportedly falling off his scooter while drunk. More recently, Depardieu raised eyebrows by releasing a duet single with someone named GooGoosha — who is, it turns out, the daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov.
Given this kind of activity, it may not be long before Depardieu’s Néchim neighbors are seeking refuge themselves by fleeing to France.
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