President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to French film star and tax exile Gerard Depardieu, who is renouncing his French citizenship to search for an easier tax climate outside of his native country.
The Academy Award-nominated Depardieu is a regular in Moscow. The actor made headlines across the world when he announced in late December that “Putin has already sent me a passport!” The statement was a joke, but it soon became reality.
The day after the announcement, Putin told a press conference that the French bon vivant was a welcome guest in Russia: “If Gerard Depardieu really wants to have Russian residence permit or a Russian passport, we can consider the issue resolved positively."
Putin also said that he has long had “kind, friendly, personal relations” with the leading light of French cinema.
On the morning of January 3, the Kremlin released a statement announcing that "Vladimir Putin has signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to France's Gerard Depardieu."
The actor responded to the news from the Kremlin saying that “he is happy that his request was met”.
“I love your country, Russia, your people, your history, your writers,” he wrote in a letter published by Russian First Channel after President Putin signed the decree.
Depardieu added he would learn Russian and does not necessarily want to live in Moscow, which is “too big megalopolis for him”.
The 64-year-old actor said he was renouncing his French citizenship over the “insulting” accusations of tax evasion he faced after announcing plans to move to Belgium. "I don't ask for approval, but I could at least be respected!" Depardieu wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
"All those who have left France have not been insulted as I have been," Depardieu said, referring to French Prime Minster Jean Marc Ayrault's comment that the actor was “pathetic” for deciding to leave his native country.
Last week, Depardieu confirmed he would stay in Belgium despite the fact that a French court struck down the proposed 75 percent income tax rate for the country's wealthiest. The French government agreed to axe the notorious measure after it “failed to recognize equality before public burdens."
Depardieu earlier mentioned three countries ready to offer him residence: Belgium, where he recently bought a house; Montenegro, where he has friends and some businesses; and Russia, which has a flat 13 percent income tax rate and could become a tax haven for the actor.
Meanwhile, the president of the Belgian commission of naturalization reportedly told Belga news agency that Depardieu's naturalization file would be considered differently if the French actor becomes a Russian citizen. "We do not collect nationalities," RTL quoted Georges Dallemagne as saying.
"The Russian citizenship of Gerard Depardieu would not change anything, technically, in terms of his application for naturalization in Belgium. But we would consider his case differently if he received Russian citizenship," Dallemagne said, adding that he had not received a formal request for naturalization from the actor yet.
"The Committee will examine the opportunity to grant him Belgian nationality and the motivations [of such a decision]. His request would seem less compelling, less important… One does not collect nationalities," he said.
A Belgian law changing naturalization procedures for special or exceptional cases came into force on January 1, RTL reported. It grants Belgian nationality to those who contribute to the "luminescence of Belgium," Dallemagne explained.