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Economy

Chechnya offers Depardieu tax exile, Belgium may reject billionaire Arnault

media Edouard Baer (L) and Gérard Depardieu in the film Astérix and Obélix on … Jean-Marie Leroy

Europe’s richest man, LVMH boss Bernard Arnault, may see his application for Belgian nationality turned down. But there is better news for Gérard Depardieu. Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov is “ready to welcome” after the film star announced he was giving up French citizenship in tax row.

Belgium’s immigration authority issued an unfavourable opinion on Arnault’s application three weeks ago, according to two Belgian papers, De Morgen and La Libre Belgique, and De Morgen says it is likely to be refused.

Applicants for Belgian citizenship have to prove that their main home has been in the country for at least three years, which is not Arnault’s case.

Arnault, who is worth 31 billion euros according to Forbes magazine, has sued French daily Libération for “public insults” over a front page that invited him to “Clear off, rich loser” after he announced that he was moving to Belgium.

The paper also lost 500,000 euros in advertising revenue when LVMH and other companies stopped advertising in the paper in protest at the headline, according to l’Express magazine.

Arnault, who moved to the US for three years when a left-wing government was elected in 1981, insisted that he was not leaving France because of the Socialist government’s 75 per cent tax on incomes over one million euros a year, as Libération had assumed.

Depardieu, who makes no bones about the fact that he has moved to Belgium because of the supertax, recently said that he was sending back his French passport because Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described his decision as “pathetic”.

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On Wednesday Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov declared that he was “ready to welcome the great artist” in the republic, which is part of the Russian federation.

On Tuesday the website of Le Monde said that Depardieu had told friends that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “already sent me a passport” but Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later said that “most likely he was joking”.

Kadyrov, a former Chechen separatist, has been accused of ruthless repression of his former comrades and corruption.

Depardieu in October attended a concert in the Chechen capital, Grozny, celebrating Kadyrov's birthday and spoke on stage in broken Russian, saying: "Glory to Grozny! Glory to Chechnya! ... Glory to Kadyrov!"

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