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Gerard Depardieu does a Mitt Romney on taxes

December 17, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Belgian Workers Party members pose with a placard reading "Welcome Gerard!" and a box looking like laundry detergent, called "Millionaires Tax, " in front of a house allegedly purchased by French actor Gerard Depardieu in the Belgian village of Nechin near Estaimpuis.
Belgian Workers Party members pose with a placard reading "Welcome… (Philippe Huguen / AFP/Getty…)

Call it a tale of two tax times, or, “It was the best of rates, it was the worst of rates.”

In Washington, President Obama got a sort of early Christmas gift from Republicans, with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) reportedly offering to raise tax rates on those Americans making more than $1 million a year.

Among many Republicans, this probably earns Boehner a new title: traitor.

Obama, of course, turned up his nose, because he wants higher tax rates on those making more than $200,000 ($250,000 for couples). Still, in gridlocked Washington, Boehner’s overture was front-page news.

Across the pond and on the Continent, in the land of truffles and Renaults and Bardot (not to mention Bordeaux), taxes are also on some people’s minds.

Specifically, they’re on the mind of French actor Gerard Depardieu, who is saying adieu to his native country. In a letter published Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche, the actor says he is giving back his French passport and health card after being criticized for moving to Belgium to avoid taxes.

As my colleague Kim Willsher explained from Paris:

Next year, France's Socialist government will implement a 75% tax rate on annual earnings above $1.31 million. The rate is about 50% in neighboring Belgium, which also has no wealth tax. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had suggested that Depardieu's move to the village of Nechin, just over the border from the French city of Lille, was unpatriotic at a time of spending cutbacks.

"I find this quite shabby. All that just to avoid paying tax," Ayrault told French television. "Paying tax is an act of solidarity, a patriotic act."

Ayrault, needless to say, is no disciple of Grover Norquist.  But Depardieu may be, because he took, shall we say, Gallic exception to Ayrault’s comments:

"Who are you to judge me like that? I'm asking you, Mr. Ayrault, Prime Minister of Mr. Hollande, I'm asking ... who are you?"

(Trust me, this sounds, and reads, a lot better in French. Then again, what doesn’t?)

Depardieu then channeled his inner Ronald Reagan:

"I was born in 1948, I began working at the age of 14 as a printer, as a store handler, then as a dramatic artist. I've always paid my taxes, whatever the level and under all serving governments. At no moment have I avoided my duty.

"Other, more illustrious people than me have become expatriates or left our country. ... I am leaving because you consider that success, creation, talent, in fact, being different, must be punished."

Wow, Bill O’Reilly couldn’t have said it better. Wonder if there’s room on Fox’s “The Five” for a big guy with a big nose and an appetite to match?  

Apparently, Belgium’s 50% tax rate may not sound so good to America’s one-percenters, but it’s a big lure among wealthy Frenchmen:

The actor is not the first famous Frenchman to move abroad. Three months ago, France's richest man, Bernard Arnault, head of the LVMH luxury-brands group, announced he was seeking Belgian nationality but denied it was for tax reasons. Singer Johnny Hallyday also applied to become Belgian before moving to Switzerland.

To which all I can say is, it’s either the taxes -- or the French really love that Belgian chocolate.

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