France taxes chase off the stars

Gerard Depardieu, one of France’s most beloved movie actors, has played memorable roles enshrining him as a monument of French culture: Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables,” Cyrano de Bergerac in Edmond Rostand’s kitsch classic and Obelix in a cartoonish spoof of wily Gauls resisting the Romans.

In real life, however, Depardieu has suddenly taken on a new role: filthy-rich tax-dodger, dissolute ingrate and traitor to his country in a time of need. It is a role he did not seek, but it has made him an unlikely political star at a time when France is bitterly divided over the Socialist government’s efforts to pull out of an economic slump dragging into its fifth year.

After it became known Depardieu bought a house in Belgium to become what is called here a “fiscal exile,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called his conduct “tacky.” Labor Minister Michel Sapin said he was an example not of France’s cinematic accomplishments but of “personal degradation.” Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti accused him of “deserting the battlefield in a war against the economic crisis.”

President Francois Hollande tried hard to stay above the fray but could not resist a dig. “When someone loves France, he should serve it,” the chief of state intoned in a radio interview Friday.

What Depardieu did to deserve the epithets was acquire a graceless little home in Nechin, a drab Belgian village less than a mile over the border, in order, he acknowledged, to establish a foreign residence and escape at least part of France’s increasingly confiscatory tax rates. Moreover, when Ayrault denounced him for dodging the tax man, Depardieu responded with an outburst of swashbuckling anger worthy of the prickly Cyrano.

“Who are you to judge me that way, Mr. Ayrault, prime minister of Mr. Hollande, I ask you, who are you?” he demanded to know. Adding insult to injury in an instinctively nationalistic country, Depardieu added, “I hand you back my passport. . . . We no longer have the same fatherland.”

Depardieu, an outsize personality with stringy blond hair who turns 64 next week, has made dozens of films in a four-decade career, some regarded as artsy, others as raunchy and not a little low-brow. His best known role in the United States was perhaps in 1990’s “Green Card,” a light comedy co-starring Andie MacDowell.
In fact, the actor has also become a businessman, making him a natural enemy of the Socialist government and its punishing tax increases on income, acquired wealth and real estate profits. Although singled out as a bad example by Hollande’s ministers, he joins a list of French entertainment stars, sports figures and business tycoons who long before the Socialists took power in May had moved to Switzerland, Monaco or Belgium to get out from under traditionally high tax rates at home. 
Depardieu owns several vineyards in France and abroad. In addition, he has acquired a stable of restaurants around the capital, where he often shows up at lunchtime to sample his own wares and titillate the customers. 
Along the Rue du Cherche-Midi in the chic sixth arrondissement, he also owns a fish store and other little businesses associated with fine food. Nearby stands his multimillion-dollar Paris home, which he recently put on the market for an undisclosed but heavily taxable price. 
Employes said he showed up last week for lunch at one of his restaurants in a good mood, despite the uproar. He claimed giving up his French passport was not a problem because he could get citizenship in Belgium, Montenegro or Russia. Asked about the claim in a Moscow news conference, an apparently amused Russian President Vladimir Putin said Depardieu had not applied but if he really wanted, “Gerard” could get a passport or residence permit for the asking.

In his open letter, Depardieu said he has contributed more than most to France’s economic health and had nothing to be ashamed of. About 80 people find employment in his businesses, he said, and he has forked over almost $190 million in taxes during the past 45 years. In this tax year alone, he said, the bill amounted to 85 percent of his income.
An 85 percent effective tax rate is a testament to the evils of socialism.  Even American liberal actors would flee that kind of taxation.   When Will Smith was asked about the French tax rate, he marveled and then said, "God bless America."


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