FRENCH film star Gerard Depardieu has been given a Russian passport after abandoning his home country to avoid a new tax rate for millionaires.
Depardieu, who is most famous for role in the international hit movie Green Card, was granted Russian citizenship by president Vladimir Putin and was even offered a free apartment in his adopted homeland, according to reports.
The two men were shown on state television shaking hands and hugging in the Black Sea resort of Sochi yesterday during what the Kremlin said was a private visit by the actor to Russia.
“A brief meeting between the president and Depardieu took place,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “On the occasion of his visit to Russia, he was handed a Russian passport.”
Mr Putin signed a decree on Thursday granting Russian citizenship to Depardieu, who has been angered by French president Francois Hollande’s plan to impose a 75 per cent tax rate.
Depardieu is popular in Russia, where he has appeared in many advertising campaigns, including for ketchup. He also worked there in 2011 on a film about the Russian monk Grigory Rasputin, which, according to reports, he discussed with Mr Putin at their meeting.
Mr Putin said last month that Depardieu would be welcome in Russia, which has a flat income tax rate of 13 per cent, compared to the 75 per cent on income over ¤1 million that Mr Hollande wants to levy in France.
He offered Depardieu the Russian passport saying he had developed warm ties with the actor – even though they had rarely met.
After receiving his new Russian passport yesterday, Depardieu flew to the provincial town of Saransk, a town about 500km east of Moscow, where he was greeted as a local hero and, according to reports on state television, was offered an apartment for free.
He was met by the governor and a group of women in traditional costume singing folk songs. He flashed his new passport to the crowd before setting out on a tour of the town.
Depardieu has not said where he would take up residence in Russia, only that he did not want to live in Moscow because it is too big and he prefers a village.
His new citizenship has been criticised at home, with French budget minister Jerome Cahuzac saying she disappointed the actor was shirking his patriotic duty to help the country during tough economic times.
“I find it a little ridiculous that for tax reasons, this man has gone into exile so far to the east,” Mr Cahuzac said.
Some of Putin’s critics said the passport move was a stunt and pointed out that the president announced last month a campaign to prevent rich Russians keeping their money offshore.
Depardieu’s friend Arnaud Frilley said: “The president called Gerard to ask if he was really serious about leaving France for good. Gerard told him it wasn’t the taxes themselves that sickened him, but he was sickened by the way France spits on success. At one point he got very annoyed.
“He also said he felt the way the media had treated him was terrible and that he needed to take a step back.
“But he did say that he would remain French in his heart and that he felt he was a kind of spokesman for all other successful people like him who had not spoken out.”