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Asterix, Obelix leave France amid tax pangs

Bloomberg/Paris 13 Dec 12 | 01:26 AM

Asterix and Obelix, who defended Gaul from the Romans, are quitting France.

Gerard Depardieu, who played Obelix in films on one of France’s most beloved fictional characters, is fleeing President Francois Hollande’s taxes on the rich by moving to Belgium. Christian Clavier, who played Asterix, has moved to London.

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Depardieu, also known for such classic French roles as Cyrano de Bergerac and the musketeer Porthos, on December 7 registered as a resident of Nechin, where he has bought a home, said Daniel Senesael, the mayor of Estaimpuis, the Belgian commune to which the village belongs.

“We can only be happy that he chose to come to Belgium and what’s more, Estaimpuis," Senesael said in a Belgian RTL radio interview yesterday. “He could have settled down in Brussels in a chic and hip circle and he chose a rural setting. He found a friendly atmosphere that suited him, a generosity of spirit, openness, tolerance. I think that’s what he was looking for in leaving the city."

The 63-year-old actor, who also played Jean Valjean, the post-revolution Frenchman convicted for stealing a loaf of bread, in a television version of “Les Miserables," is the latest celebrity to seek to escape a slew of levies announced by Hollande since the Socialist president was elected in May. Hollande, who is imposing a 75 per cent tax on income of more than 1 million euros, has added new charges on capital gains, an increased tax on wealth, a boost to inheritance charges and an exit tax for entrepreneurs selling their companies.

Clavier moved to London earlier this year for fear of attacks against him for his close ties to former President Nicolas Sarkozy rather than for taxes, his agent Alexandra Schamis was cited as saying by Agence France-Presse in October.

In addition to playing Asterix, a comic character whose exploits to protect his indomitable Gaulish village from Roman occupying forces have made him beloved around the world, Clavier has acted with Jean Reno in the film “The Visitors."

Depardieu’s exit comes as the French government is seeking to bolster revenue through taxes on large companies, Internet startups and private fortunes to make its budget-deficit target of 3 per cent of gross domestic product next year.

Hollande, the first Socialist president in France since 1995, has called on those “with the most to show patriotism" in tough times.

“Those who moved abroad aren’t afraid of becoming poor," Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at a conference today in Paris. “It’s because they want to become even richer. Fortunately, there are only a few who want to move simply to get out of showing solidarity with other French people."

French billionaire Bernard Arnault, chief executive officer of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, filed an application for Belgian nationality in September. While he promised to continue paying taxes in France, the action prompted fierce criticism from Hollande and his supporters.

Hollande also called on his “patriotism" and the newspaper Liberation ran a front-page headline that read: “Get lost, rich bastard."

Belgian income and inheritance taxes are lower than in France, and unlike France, Belgium does not impose a tax on personal wealth, making it attractive for entrepreneurs, said Philippe Kenel, Geneva-based tax lawyer at Python, Schifferli, Peter & Associates.

Depardieu didn’t return a message left at his Paris home. Francois Guerrar, Depardieu’s French press agent, didn’t immediately return a call for comment to his mobile phone.

The house Depardieu bought is just across the French border. The ease of getting out of Nechin was as much an attraction as the low tax rates and friendly locals, said Senesael.

“The proximity to Lille train station, Lille airport, a major highway mean it’s easy for him to travel," he said.

Depardieu intends to stay there for “about six months a year," Senesael said. That’s enough time to qualify for Belgian tax rates.

Depardieu, who was born in the Loire-region town of Chateauroux, gained famed in the US playing a cigarette-smoking, wine-swilling French bon vivant who marries a prissy American played by Andie MacDowell for American residency in “Green Card."

He was often spotted seated alongside the wife of former French President Jacques Chirac at campaign events for Sarkozy, who lost his re-election bid to Hollande in May.

“France without Depardieu is not the same, but Depardieu without France is not the same either," Socialist Party spokeswoman Frederique Espagnac said yesterday at the party’s weekly press conference. “So I want to say to Gerard: ’come back soon.’"

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