Actor Depardieu denies leaving France for tax reasons

FIFA President Sepp Blatter is accompanied by French actor Gerard Depardieu (R) as he arrives before the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2012 Gala at the Kongresshaus in Zurich January 7, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

PARIS (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 labeled 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.

Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Robin Pomeroy