Depardieu 'to give up passport' in tax exile row

Gerard Depardieu (file image) Gerard Depardieu says he has never failed in his duties to pay taxes in France

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French actor Gerard Depardieu says he is handing back his French passport after the prime minister criticised him for moving to Belgium to avoid taxes.

In a letter to a newspaper he lambasted the French government for punishing "success, creation and talent".

Last week the 63-year-old actor announced he was moving to the small Belgian town of Nechin just over the French border.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described the decision as "shabby".

Next year, the top rate of income tax in France is due to become 75% on earnings above 1m euros. It is currently 50% in Belgium.

"I am not asking to be approved of, but I could at least be respected. All of those who have left France have not been insulted as I have been," Depardieu said in the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche.

He accused the government of Socialist President Francois Hollande of driving France's most talented figures out of the country.

"I am leaving because you consider that success, creation, talent, anything different, must be punished," he said.

Depardieu said that during his long career he had paid 145m euros (£118m) to the French taxman.

"At no time have I failed in my duties. The historic films in which I took part bear witness to my love of France and its history," he said.

'Unpatriotic'

Referring to Mr Ayrault, Depardieu asked: "Who are you to judge me in this way?"

The prime minister had suggested that Depardieu's move to the town of Nechin, just over the border from the French city of Lille, was unpatriotic at a time of cutbacks.

"I find this quite shabby. All that just to avoid paying tax," he said on France 2 TV channel. "Paying a tax is an act of solidarity, a patriotic act."

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Paris says Belgium is an attractive option for wealthy French people.

Three months ago France's richest man, Bernard Arnault, announced plans to relocate to Belgium although he denied it was for tax reasons.

Our correspondent says what is in question is the message such self-imposed exile sends to the outside investors that France hopes to attract.

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