Depardieu's tax exile in Belgium fuels controversy in France
French politicians reacted with dismay on Monday after it emerged the country's most famous actor, Gerard Depardieu, lives in tax exile in neighbouring Belgium.
The mayor of the little village of Nechin in Belgium, already home to several wealthy French nationals, has confirmed that Depardieu has taken up residence there.
Mayor Daniel Senesael suggested Depardieu had been drawn to Nechin by the attractions of country life as much as the fiscal shelter it offers.
"He wanted to find somewhere to stay in Belgium to escape French taxes but he could just as easily have settled in Brussels," the mayor told Belgian TV. "He wanted to get out of Paris with all its noise and find a bit of peace and quiet."
"It is sad because he is a great actor and someone I know and like," said Bertrand Delanoe, the Socialist mayor of Paris. "He is a generous man but in this instance he is not showing that."
Jean-Francois Copé, of the main right wing opposition group, the UMP, also expressed his regret, while pointing the finger of blame at President Francois Hollande's tax policies.
"I don't want to cast judgement but it is distressing for the country and its image," Copé said. "You don't see leading business figures or huge stars moving out of Belgium, Britain, Germany or Italy."
With the ability to command two million euros per film, Depardieu would almost certainly be hit by Hollande’s pledged 75 per cent tax on those who have an annual income of over one million euros.
Depardieu also has extensive business interests, including a vineyard and a chateau in the Loire valley, stakes in wine estates in France and at least five other countries, three Paris restaurants, a fishmonger and a production company.
Depardieu's move into tax exile is a sensitive issue at a time when the French government has embarked on an austerity drive that will mean higher taxes for many middle-class citizens as well as the super rich.
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.