PARIS Jan 24 Bernard Arnault, France's wealthiest man, shifted part of the family holding through which he controls luxury giant LVMH to a holding company based in Belgium, a source close to LVMH said, confirming a newspaper report on Thursday.
Arnault, the founder and chief executive of LVMH, transferred a 31 percent stake in Groupe Arnault to Pilinvest in December 2011, according to newspaper Liberation.
He also transferred the voting rights attached to 48.5 percent of the equity of the holding to Pilinvest, Liberation said. Arnault had already donated the 48.5 percent stake in Groupe Arnault without voting rights to his five children.
The source did not confirm the size of the transfers.
LVMH declined to comment on the report.
Arnault has been seeking Belgian citizenship, a move a spokesman for LVMH said last week was aimed at protecting a foundation he created to maintain the unity of his family's holding in case he passes away.
According to the statutes of the foundation, which is to run until 2023, administrators must be at least 50 years old, which would prevent Arnault's five children from ever sitting on its board and selling their stakes or part of the group or their assets.
The holdings of Arnault and his children would be automatically transferred to the foundation if Arnault were to die before 2023. The children would then simply receive dividends.
Arnault's demand for Belgian nationality anticipates a European law coming into effect in August 2015, which would allow him to apply the inheritance law of the country whose passport he carries, Dekeysers & Associates lawyer Gregory Homans said.
Such a move would protect Arnault's holding from attempts to contest his will by his children under French law upon his death.
The chairman of the foundation is Thierry Breton, a former French finance minister and France Telecom CEO who is now chief executive of IT services group Atos, the source close to LVMH confirmed.
Arnault's application for Belgian citizenship has caused an uproar in France, perceived as an attempt to dodge French President Francois Hollande's planned tax hikes on the wealthy. Arnault has since said he planned to remain a fiscal resident of France. ($1 = 0.7530 euros) (Editing by Leslie Adler)