Politicians lead the criticism of Dépardieu move to Belgium

Tue, Dec 11, 2012, 00:00

He took an inebriated tumble from a scooter in Paris last month. He has just released a duet with the daughter of a central Asian dictator and he was caught urinating into a bottle during a flight to Dublin last year.

But the most controversial, eccentric thing Gérard Dépardieu has done of late, judging by the ire-storm that came his way in France yesterday, is to have bought a house in Belgium.

News that the 63-year-old actor had taken up residence in Néchin, a tiny village just over the border with Belgium, made front-page news and drew criticism from politicians across the spectrum.

That’s because Néchin is known as a favoured spot for wealthy French nationals who move north to take advantage of Belgium’s more attractive tax regime.

“He wanted to find somewhere to stay in Belgium to escape French taxes, but he could just as easily have settled in Brussels,” local mayor Daniel Senesael told Belgian TV.

“He wanted to get out of Paris with all its noise and find a bit of peace and quiet.”

Bucolic charm

Néchin’s bucolic charm has already seduced a number of Dépardieu’s compatriots.

A quarter of the village’s population is French, among them the Meunier and Mulliez families, respective owners of the Carrefour and Auchan supermarket chains.

“It is sad because he is a great actor and someone I know and like,” said Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist mayor of Paris. “He is a generous man but in this instance he is not showing that.”

Jean-François Copé, one of the leaders of the main conservative opposition party, the UMP, also expressed his regret but pointed the finger of blame at president François Hollande’s tax policies.

“I don’t want to cast judgement but it is distressing for the country and its image,” said Mr Copé.

Mr Hollande, who famously declared “I don’t like the rich”, has introduced a temporary 75 per cent tax rate on annual income above €1 million.

Belgian residents do not pay wealth tax, which in France is now levied on individuals with assets over €1.3 million. Nor do they pay capital gains tax on the sale of shares.

Dépardieu is one of France’s best-paid actors, reportedly commanding €2 million per film, and has extensive business interests.

These include a vineyard and château in the Loire valley, stakes in wine estates in France and at least five other countries, three Paris restaurants and a production company.

The actor’s settling-in to village life in Belgium, where he would have to spend half of each year to qualify as a resident for tax purposes, will be interrupted on Thursday, when he is due to appear in a Paris court on drink-driving charges after falling off his scooter last month.

Dépardieu has also been criticised for lending legitimacy to the regime of Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov. He recently collaborated with Karimov’s daughter, Gulnara – also known under the name of GooGoosha – on a duet and has agreed to star in a planned Uzbek serial also written by her.