Actor Depardieu's Belgium move "pathetic": French PM

PARIS Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:49pm EST

Actor Gerard Depardieu speaks during a news conference to promote the movie ''Mammuth'' at the Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, February 19, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Charisius

Actor Gerard Depardieu speaks during a news conference to promote the movie ''Mammuth'' at the Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, February 19, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Charisius

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PARIS (Reuters) - Actor Gerard Depardieu's decision to establish residency in Belgium, which does not have a wealth tax, by buying a house just over the border with France, is "pathetic" and unpatriotic, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Wednesday.

Depardieu has become the latest wealthy Frenchman after luxury magnate Bernard Arnault to look for shelter outside his native country following tax hikes by Socialist President Francois Hollande.

"Going just over the border, I find that fairly pathetic," Ayrault said on France 2 television. "Being a Frenchman means loving your country and helping it to get back on its feet."

The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star bought a house in the Belgian village of Nechin near the border with France, where 27 percent of the population is composed of French nationals, local mayor Daniel Senesael told French media on Sunday.

Depardieu also enquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, he said.

Yann Galut, a Socialist member of parliament, condemned the actor and proposed that France copy U.S. practice by adopting a law that would force exiles to pay full tax dues or risk being stripped of their nationality.

"It is scandalous and shameful," Galut told Reuters in an interview.

"The country's in dire straits. This man owes everything he has to France - the accolades, the subsidies that helped produce his films, the schools where he was educated. At the end of a career that made him extremely rich he wants nothing to do with national solidarity."

Belgian residents do not pay wealth tax, which in France is now slapped on individuals with assets over 1.3 million euros ($1.70 million), nor do they pay capital gains tax on share sales. France has also imposed a 75-percent tax on incomes exceeding 1 million euros.

The tax hikes have been welcomed by left-wingers who say the rich must do more to help redress public finances but attacked by some wealthy personalities and foreign critics, who say it will increase tax flight and dampen investment.

Depardieu's move comes three months after Arnault, chief executive of luxury giant LVMH, caused an uproar by seeking to establish residency in Belgium - a move he said was not motivated by tax reasons.

The left-leaning Liberation daily reacted with a front-page headline next a photograph of Arnault telling him to "Get lost, you rich jerk", prompting luxury advertisers including LVMH to withdraw their advertisements.

Ayrault said he did not support the idea floated by Galut, and the call was also partially disowned by the leader of the Socialist group in the lower house of parliament.

"I'd rather appeal to people's intelligence, to their hearts," Ayrault said.

Undeterred, Galut said tax dodging may be costing the state as much as 6 to 8 billion euros ($7.8 to 10.4 billion) a year in lost income and that such amounts were "far from negligible" at a time when France is at pains to reduce a bloated debt.

"Everyone is being asked to chip in, private individuals and companies alike. It's inadmissible that people who made fortunes in France refuse to share their part of the burden," he said.

Galut said he was asked on Wednesday to set up a parliamentary panel that would look into the question of tax exiles, saying he would like to see action taken when parliament broaches a budget bill for 2014.

($1 = 0.7669 euros)

(Editing by Jon Boyle and Louise Heavens)

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