Russian President Vladimir Putin Grants Gerard Depardieu Citizenship

Gerard Depardieu Citizenship and Tax Controversy

French movie star Gerard Depardieu has in the past made headlines with his conservative political views and his decision to pee on an airplane. Just in time for the holiday season, he caused a political and media firestorm by moving to a border town in Belgium to avoid higher taxes. In France, the top rate of income tax is scheduled to rise to 75 percent in 2013. Some celebrities have opposed the higher tax on the rich promoted by president Francois Hollande. In an open letter, the Oscar-nominated actor later responded to criticism and threatened to hand back his French passport in protest.

The star has been engaged in a battle with the French government over a planned tax on the rich and recently announced plans to move to Belgium.

Russia has granted citizenship to French film star Gerard Depardieu amid his ongoing battle with the French government over taxes. 

Vladimir Putin has signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to France’s Gerard Depardieu,” the Kremlin said in a brief statement on Thursday. Russia grants the president authority over “issues of citizenship of the Russian Federation and the granting of asylum.” 

It wasn’t immediately clear if Depardieu had accepted or would accept the citizenship offer.

Depardieu, often called France’s most beloved actor and its most recognizable name abroad, has been at the center of a big media debate and controversy since he threatened to turn in his French passport in protest of a planned 75 percent tax on income over $1.3 million (€1 million) that has been supported by French President Francois Hollande

Depardieu announced his plans to move to a small Belgian village within walking distance of the French border last month to escape the tax. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called him “pathetic” for the planned move, resulting in Depardieu vowing to give up his citizenship. French screen legends Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve quickly jumped to his defense. 

France’s high court then overturned the tax plan, calling it unconstitutional just three days before it was set to go into effect on Jan. 1. But Hollande quickly announced plans to address the court’s concerns and reinstate the tax plan during the next legislative session. Upon hearing the news Sunday, Depardieu still slammed the Hollande government and said the last-minute move “changes nothing” for him.  “Let them talk,” he said of the ongoing political chatter.

Depardieu claimed at the time that he had at least three countries that would happily grant him citizenship. “Putin has sent me a passport,” he said. However, the Kremlin initially denied any such move. 

"This must have been a joke," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in mid-December. However at a press conference on Dec. 20, Putin responded favorably to questions about the Oscar-nominated actor’s status. “If Gerard wants to have a residence permit or a passport, it’s a done deal,” he said.  

Depardieu has been notably close to Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed dictator Ramzan Kadyrov and was the guest of honor at his birthday celebration in Grozny last October. "If the country's leadership decides in favor of granting [Depardieu] Russian citizenship, we will be glad to create deserved conditions for the great cultural figure in our republic," Kadyrov said later. 

Depardieu is well-known in Russia where he has appeared in ad campaigns and shot the film Rasputin in St. Petersberg last year. Russia has a flat income tax of 13 percent. 

Putin’s spokesman later on Thursday said that the that Russian citizenship was granted to Depardieu “based on his significant contribution to Russian culture and cinema.” He added: “Depardieu starred in a number of very big projects, particularly he played Rasputin.”

Depardieu has said he still plans to relocate to his Belgian chateau, and his Paris mansion remains on the market for $85 million.

Rhonda Richford reported from Paris. Vladimir Kozlov reported from Moscow.