France's richest man applies to be Belgian, says not a tax move

PARIS Sat Sep 8, 2012 11:26am EDT

LVMH Chief Executive Bernard Arnault arrives for a news conference to present the group's 2010 results in Paris February 4, 2011. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

LVMH Chief Executive Bernard Arnault arrives for a news conference to present the group's 2010 results in Paris February 4, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

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PARIS (Reuters) - Bernard Arnault, France's richest man and chief executive of luxury group LVMH, said on Saturday he had applied for Belgian nationality, citing personal and business reasons.

Announcing the move a day after French President Francois Hollande said he would press ahead with a new tax on the super rich, Arnault said he would continue to pay taxes in France and keep his French nationality.

Hollande drew a mixed reaction in February when he announced plans for a 75 percent tax on revenue exceeding 1 million euros ($1.26 million) per year as part of efforts to cut France's public deficit to 3 percent of economic output in 2013.

Arnault, who emigrated to the United States during the last Socialist presidency in 1981, has been critical of Hollande's tax initiative, telling Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Wednesday he opposed the move.

But he was not becoming Belgian to cut his tax bill, he said.

"Contrary to information published today, Bernard Arnault clarifies that he is and will continue to be a fiscal resident in France. His possible acquisition of Belgian nationality will not change this situation or his determination to develop LVMH and create jobs in France," he said.

Arnault is ranked as the world's fourth richest man with a total wealth of $41 billion, according to Forbes magazine. In a year, he jumped from seventh position, benefiting from his company's rising sales in Asia.

Following newspaper reports on Friday that the government was preparing to water down the February tax pledge, Hollande and cabinet heavyweights said it would go ahead as promised.

"The French are going to be called on to make an effort," Hollande said. "There will be budget savings and solidarity will be necessary, especially from high earners who must contribute more."

British Prime Minister David Cameron triggered a war of words with France at the G20 summit in Mexico in June by vowing to "roll out the red carpet" for French firms if Hollande followed through on his plan to tax the wealthy more.

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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