Depardieu offered citizenship and low tax rate by Putin

Fri, Jan 4, 2013, 00:00

In the old days, those who took an offer of citizenship from the Kremlin usually had a pretty compelling reason to do so.

Whether they were hunted spies, exchanged prisoners, or ideological misfits, the likes of Kim Philby, Morris Cohen and Lee Harvey Oswald were among the West’s most notorious defectors, trading their passports for socialist workers’ glory.

Russia now inspires a new generation of westerners, chiefly with its 13 per cent income tax rate, something that might look pretty good if you are a French actor facing a 75 per cent rate in your home country.

Just how good remains to be seen. In order to take advantage of the 13 per cent tax rate, one has to live in Russia 183 days a year, otherwise it goes up to 30 per cent.

Gérard Depardieu was not commenting yesterday following a decree by his friend Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, granting him Russian citizenship, which followed a public promise two weeks ago to do so. However, Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed that Depardieu had “not too long ago” applied for Russian citizenship through a Russian embassy. “The citizenship could not have been granted to him without an application,” Mr Peskov added.

After Depardieu publicly threatened to give up his French passport in a rage over increased tax rates on the wealthy, Mr Putin had promised to welcome him to Russia.

“If Gérard really wants to have a residency permit in Russia or a Russian passport, we can consider this issue resolved positively,” Mr Putin said.

Depardieu is revered in Russia, which jealously guards the few western stars who make frequent trips, and where he has served on the juries of many film festivals. “This promise was based on Depardieu’s weighty contributions to our native culture and cinematography,” said Mr Peskov.

Propaganda coup

Were Depardieu to settle in Russia, or even take up tax residence there, it would be a propaganda coup for Mr Putin, who has often bemoaned the fact that Russia’s wealthy class tends to settle abroad whenever its members make enough money to leave. It would also carry echoes of the cold war, when left-wing European celebrities risked controversy by visiting the Soviet Union.

In 1958, for example, Depardieu’s future co-star in the 1986 film Jean de Florette, Yves Montand, travelled to Moscow along with Simone Signoret, attracting criticism of the type today directed at Depardieu.

The French government responded tartly to Mr Putin’s decree yesterday, saying it was up to the Russian president to choose to whom he wanted to grant citizenship. “I have no further comment,” said government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. – (Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2013)