Actor Depardieu denies leaving France for tax reasons

PARIS Mon Jan 7, 2013 1:56pm EST

PARIS Jan 7 (Reuters) - Film star Gerard Depardieu denied that he was leaving his homeland for tax reasons on Monday, saying that, although he now had a Russian passport, he was still very much French.

In an interview with sports channel L'Equipe 21 - his first since a row broke out in December over his decision to buy a house over the border in Belgium - Depardieu said that if he had wanted to leave to avoid tax hikes he would have gone earlier.

"I have a Russian passport, but I remain French and I will probably have dual Belgian nationality. But if I'd wanted to escape the taxman, as the French press say, I would have done it a long time ago," he said.

Depardieu was speaking in Zurich on the sidelines of a football awards ceremony after receiving a new Russian passport on Sunday from President Vladimir Putin.

The 63-year-old star of "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Green Card" has been accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge a proposed new tax rate for millionaires.

But in a letter last month to Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who labelled the actor "pathetic", Depardieu said he was leaving because success was now being punished in France.

Hollande's original proposal to introduce a 75 percent rate on income over 1 million euros ($1.31 million) was struck down by France's Constitutional Court.

While he has said he will press ahead with a tax on the wealthy, it remains unclear whether the redrafted text will be as severe on top earners. ($1 = 0.7634 euros) (Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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