Actor Depardieu's Belgium Move 'Pathetic:' French PM

Jean-Marc Ayrault, France's prime minister, gestures during the opening session of the Mouvement des Enterprises de France (Medef) conference at Campus HEC in Jouy-en-Josas, France, on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.

Actor Gerard Depardieu's decisionto establish residency in Belgium, which does not have a wealthtax, by buying a house just over the border with France, is"pathetic" and unpatriotic, French Prime Minister Jean-MarcAyrault said on Wednesday.

Depardieu has become the latest wealthy Frenchman afterluxury magnate Bernard Arnault to look for shelter outside hisnative country following tax hikes by Socialist PresidentFrancois Hollande.

"Going just over the border, I find that fairly pathetic,"Ayrault said on France 2 television. "Being a Frenchman meansloving your country and helping it to get back on its feet."

The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star bought a house in the Belgianvillage of Nechin near the border with France, where 27 percentof the population is composed of French nationals, local mayorDaniel Senesael told French media on Sunday.

Depardieu also enquired about procedures for acquiringBelgian residency, he said.

Yann Galut, a Socialist member of parliament, condemned theactor and proposed that France copy U.S. practice by adopting alaw that would force exiles to pay full tax dues or risk beingstripped of their nationality.

"It is scandalous and shameful," Galut told Reuters in aninterview.

"The country's in dire straits. This man owes everything hehas to France - the accolades, the subsidies that helped producehis films, the schools where he was educated. At the end of acareer that made him extremely rich he wants nothing to do withnational solidarity."

A photo taken on December 10, 2012 shows a house in the Belgian village of Nechin near Estaimpuis allegedly bought by French actor Gerard Depardieu.
Philippe Huguen | AFP | Getty Images

Belgian residents do not pay wealth tax, which in France is now slapped on individuals with assets over 1.3 million euros ($1.70 million), nor do they pay capital gains tax on share sales. France has also imposed a 75-percent tax on incomes exceeding 1 million euros.

The tax hikes have been welcomed by left-wingers who say the rich must do more to help redress public finances but attacked by some wealthy personalities and foreign critics, who say it will increase tax flight and dampen investment.

Depardieu's move comes three months after Arnault, chief executive of luxury giant LVMH, caused an uproar by seeking to establish residency in Belgium - a move he said was not motivated by tax reasons.

The left-leaning Liberation daily reacted with a front-page headline next a photograph of Arnault telling him to "Get lost, you rich jerk", prompting luxury advertisers including LVMH to withdraw their advertisements.

Ayrault said he did not support the idea floated by Galut, and the call was also partially disowned by the leader of the Socialist group in the lower house of parliament.

"I'd rather appeal to people's intelligence, to their hearts," Ayrault said.

Undeterred, Galut said tax dodging may be costing the state as much as 6 to 8 billion euros ($7.8 to 10.4 billion) a year in lost income and that such amounts were "far from negligible" at a time when France is at pains to reduce a bloated debt.

"Everyone is being asked to chip in, private individuals and companies alike. It's inadmissible that people who made fortunes in France refuse to share their part of the burden," he said.

Galut said he was asked on Wednesday to set up a parliamentary panel that would look into the question of tax exiles, saying he would like to see action taken when parliament broaches a budget bill for 2014.