Published: 17 Dec 2012 16:54 GMT+01:00 | Print version
Updated: 17 Dec 2012 16:54 GMT+01:00
Belgium's foreign minister said Monday that France was solely to blame after its top actor Gérard Depardieu threatened to give up his passport following a move to seek tax exile in the neighbouring country.
Didier Reynders said his country must not be made a "scapegoat" for Depardieu's move, which the French prime minister suggested was an unpatriotic act.
"There have been no measures taken by Belgium to attract any French national," he said on RTL radio. "There has been an evolution in the French tax system which may have had consequences."
"One must look at things for which citizens are leaving their own country, even if these are tax reasons," he added.
Reynders earlier said many Belgian sports celebrities had sought tax exile in Monaco and that Belgian authorities had accepted that. He also noted that many Belgians shopped in France due to lower value added tax.
In an open letter to Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault – who called Depardieu "pathetic" for seeking tax exile in Belgium – the 63-year-old star said he had been treated unfairly after paying millions of euros in taxes.
Depardieu has joined some of France's wealthiest business figures in Belgium following moves by President François Hollande's Socialist government to tax annual incomes above one million euros ($1.3 million) at 75 percent.
Unlike France, Belgium does not impose a wealth tax and has not had one since 1830. Its income and inheritance taxes are also lower.
In his letter, Depardieu, who has extensive business interests including wine estates and three Paris restaurants, accused the Socialists of driving France's most talented figures out of the country.
He said that over 45 years of working and running businesses in France he had paid 145 million euros into state coffers.
Ayrault's attack came after it emerged that Depardieu had taken up residence in Nechin, a tiny village just over the border in Belgium, which is a favoured spot for wealthy French nationals avoiding tax.
"I find it quite pathetic," Ayrault had said. "Everyone loves him as an artist, but paying your taxes is an act of solidarity and patriotism."
The affair was seized on by the right-wing UMP party of Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, whose leader Jean-Francois Copé said the president – who famously said he did not "like the rich" – was destroying the country.
"What I regret above all is how the Socialist government is running the country into the ground," Copé said on Monday, denouncing the "tax bludgeoning which is hitting all French citizens."
"He is in the process of taking our country backwards."
France's richest man Bernard Arnault came under fire in September when it emerged that he had applied for Belgian citizenship. Arnault, the boss of luxury conglomerate LVMH, denied he was seeking to become a tax exile, saying he wanted Belgian nationality "for personal reasons".
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