Gerard Depardieu Causes Media Firestorm With Move to Belgium to Avoid Taxes

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The larger-than-life Depardieu made his name in the U.S. with 1974's "Going Places," endearing himself further with "Green Card" and "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1990), for which he was nominated for an Oscar.

With the top rate of income tax in France set to rise to 75 percent next year, the film star becomes the latest celebrity to leave his country.

French movie star Gerard Depardieu has caused a political and media debate late this week after it emerged that he has moved to a town in Belgium just across the French border in an apparent attempt to avoid higher taxes.

French media reported that the star moved to the small Belgian town of Nechin, which is within walking distance of the French border and has a French population of 27 percent. Rich French families, including a well-known supermarket clan, have set up residences there over the years.

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Belgian residents, whether they are Belgian nationals or not, pay no wealth tax and no capital gains tax on stock sales. In France, the top rate of income tax will rise to 75 percent next year on income over $1.3 million (1 million euros).

Depardieu didn't publicly comment on his move, but he, along with other celebrities, have opposed the new 75 percent tax on the rich promoted by president Francois Hollande.

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Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, the German creative director of French fashion house Chanel, this fall called Hollande an "idiot." Asked about the tax increases, he said: "It's a disaster. He wants to punish [the rich], and of course they leave and no one invests."

Hollywood star Will Smith, when promoting Men in Black III earlier this year, also expressed shock about the tax hike in a French TV interview.

"I have no issue with paying taxes and whatever needs to be done for my country to grow," Smith said. "So I will pay anything that I need to pay to keep my country growing."

When the interviewer mentioned the planned 75 percent tax rate, Smith replied: "Seventy-five? Yeah, that's different, that's different. Yeah, 75. Well, you know, God bless America."

French luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy, earlier this year also announced plans to move to Belgium, but later denied that it was for tax reasons.

Depardieu, known for his conservative political views, is just the latest French celebrity to leave the country for tax reasons. Singer Johnny Hallyday and actor Alain Delon live in Switzerland, for example. Hallyday once even requested Belgian citizenship.

Delon was asked about Depardieu's decision to move to Belgium on a popular TV talk show this week. "Let's be serious, I can't allow myself to make a judgment," he quipped, according to the New York Times.

It wasn't immediately clear if other celebrities were also considering moving now to avoid taxes. If they do, they may have to brace themselves for a public outcry.

Politicians and media in France assailed the 63-year-old Depardieu late this week. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called his decision to move "shabby" and unpatriotic at a time of austerity programs.

While Depardieu was a "great star," he said "paying a tax is an act of solidarity, a patriotic act."

Newspaper Liberation, known for its more liberal views, put Depardieu on its front page this week. In an editorial, it assailed his "absence of moral sense" and calling departures for tax reasons a danger to solidarity.

Depardieu has businesses, such as wine estates and restaurants, in addition to his movie career, meaning he would be hit by the new tax rate.

Meanwhile, French daily Le Parisien reported Friday that Depardieu has put his big Paris residence up for sale with an ask price of $65 million (50 million euros) for his house that he calls Hotel Particulier, a French term for a privately-owned town house, in Paris’ posh 6th district.

Twitter: @georgszalai