French actor Gerard Depardieu poses at a photo-call of the film 'Mammuth'… (Kai-Uwe Knoth / Associated…)
PARIS -- Larger-than-life actor Gerard Depardieu says he is giving back his French passport and health card after being criticized for moving to Belgium to avoid taxes.
In an angry letter to a French newspaper, Depardieu, 63, lambasted the government of French President Francois Hollande for punishing "success, creation and talent."
"I am not asking to be agreed with, but I could at least be respected," Depardieu wrote in his letter, which was published Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche.
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."
In his letter, Depardieu fumed: "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?"
The actor added that during his 45-year career he had paid nearly $191 million to the French tax authorities.
"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."
He concluded: "Despite my excesses, my appetite for and love of life, I am a free being, Sir, and I will remain polite."
Depardieu, star of more than 100 films, including "Green Card" and "Jean de Florette," has hit the headlines in recent months more for his bad-boy behavior than his movies. Last month, he was arrested after falling off his scooter while drunk in Paris, just one month after a motorist alleged that the actor had beaten him up after an argument.
Last year, Depardieu outraged airline passengers by urinating in the aisle of an Air France flight to Ireland. Now, he has moved to a nation whose most famous sculpture is the "Manneken Pis," a bronze rendition of a boy urinating into the basin of a Brussels fountain.
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.