Europe

Gerard Depardieu meets Putin, receives Russian passport

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) greets French actor Gerard Depardieu in Sochi, 5 January
Image caption Gerard Depardieu and Vladimir Putin met in the Russian resort of Sochi

French actor Gerard Depardieu has met President Vladimir Putin and has been handed his new Russian passport.

The actor had announced he was seeking Russian citizenship after the French government criticised his decision to move abroad to avoid higher taxes.

Mr Depardieu met Mr Putin in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Mr Depardieu was then given his new passport, although the president's spokesman said Mr Putin did not hand it over personally.

Mr Depardieu and Mr Putin shook hands and hugged each other at the meeting in Sochi.

The actor was later invited to set up home in the central Russian region of Mordovia, known for its Stalin-era prison camps.

Local governor Vladimir Volkov said Mr Depardieu could choose an apartment or a place to build a house, Interfax news agency reported.

After arriving in Mordovia's main city of Saransk, the actor showed of his new passport, saying: "I am very happy, it's very beautiful here. Beautiful and soulful people live here."

Earlier this week, Mr Putin signed the decree granting Russian citizenship to Mr Depardieu.

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Media captionWearing folk costume, Gerard Depardieu showed off his new Russian passport after arriving in Saransk, Mordovia

The actor responded by writing an open letter saying: "I love your country, Russia - its people, its history, its writers. I love your culture, your intelligence."

Mr Depardieu went on to describe Russia as "a great democracy, and not a country where the prime minister calls one of its citizens shabby".

Mr Depardieu's highly publicised tax row began last year after new President Francois Hollande said he would raise taxes to 75% for those earning more than 1m euros (£817,400).

The actor accused the socialist government of punishing "success, creation and talent", and announced in early December that he would move to Belgium.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault branded his decision to move abroad as "shabby and unpatriotic".

The actor, described by Mr Putin as a friend, has developed close ties with Russia, which has a flat 13% personal income tax rate.

He currently appears in an advertisement for Sovietsky Bank's credit card and is prominently featured on the bank's home page.

In 2011, he played the lead role in the film Rasputin, a Franco-Russian production about the life of eccentric monk Grigory Rasputin.

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