Russian President Vladimir Putin is riding to the rescue of Gerard Depardieu, a French actor who is sufficiently outraged by French income taxes that he would rather give up his citizenship than pay them.
If Mr. Depardieu’s name doesn’t ring a bell, he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “Cyrano de Bergerac” in 1990. You also might recognize him from the 1991 movie “Green Card,” which, ironically, involves a man who gets into a marriage of convenience in order to get U.S. residency.
President Putin has not only offered Mr. Depardieu Russian citizenship, he’s already granted it. Lest skeptics think there’s nothing more to Russia than corrupt cops, big furry hats and citizens who die or disappear for balking at government edicts, Mr. Putin notes that Russia has a flat 13-percent tax rate. Less clear is whether Russia’s famous oligarchs — at least those on good terms with President Putin — have to pay it.
In any case, a tax rate of 13 percent is a bargain compared to French taxes. Besides, as an Associated Press story points out, Mr. Depardieu is hardly a stranger in Russia. Among other things, he’s a spokesman for Sovietsky Bank’s credit card.
What’s got Mr. Depardieu up in arms in France is the government’s attempt to restore a 75-percent tax on incomes greater than 1 million euros (about $1.2 million.) A court has thrown that tax law out, which means that until the government amends and resubmits it, Mr. Depardieu would have to pay 41 percent in taxes on income exceeding 1 million euros. That is, if he wants to remain a French citizen.
Russia isn’t Mr. Depardieu’s only option. He’s said to be setting up legal residence in Belgium and has bought a house there. If he moves to Belgium, he might have company. Bernard Arnault, who runs the fashion giant LVMH and whose worth is estimated at $41 billion, also has indicated he would move to Belgium to escape French taxes.
If those two wealthy individuals start a stampede, France’s financial situation could soon resemble Greece’s. France’s debt burden is about 90 percent of national income, which helps explain the government’s efforts to get more tax revenue from millionaires.
Perhaps unfortunately for France, it might need its wealthiest citizens more than they need what France offers in return.