Moscow: The Kremlin has cast Gerard Depardieu in one of the most surprising roles of his life - as a new Russian citizen.
An announcement on Thursday that President Vladimir Putin has approved Depardieu`s application for citizenship is almost a real-life analogue to the French actor`s 1990 comedy "Green Card”, in which his character enters into a sham marriage in order to work in the US.
But in this version, taxes appear to be at the heart of the matter. Depardieu has waged a battle against a proposed super tax on millionaires in his native country.
French President Francois Hollande plans to raise the tax on earned income above USD 1.3 million to 75 percent from the current 41 percent, while Russia has a flat 13-percent tax rate.
A representative for the former Oscar nominee declined to say whether he had accepted the Russian offer.
But the move is clearly an image buffer for Russia, calling attention to the country`s attractive tax regime and boosting Putin`s efforts to show that the economic chaos of the early post-Soviet period has passed.
"The distinctiveness of our tax system is poorly known about in the West. When they know about it, we can expect a massive migration of rich Europeans to Russia," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin bragged on Twitter.
As Depardieu`s criticism of the proposed tax roiled his country, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called him "pathetic".
Depardieu responded angrily in an open letter.
"I have never killed anyone, I don`t think I`ve been unworthy, I`ve paid USD 190 million in taxes over 45 years," the 64-year-old actor wrote. "I will neither complain nor brag, but I refuse to be called `pathetic`."
Depardieu said in the letter that he would surrender his passport and French social security card. In October, the mayor of a small Belgian border town announced that Depardieu had bought a house and set up legal residence there.
Depardieu has made more than 150 films and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1990 film of the same name.
The Kremlin statement gave no information on why Putin made the citizenship grant, but the Russian President had expressed sympathy with the actor in December, days after Depardieu reportedly said he was considering Russian citizenship.
France`s debt burden is around 90 percent of national income - not far off levels that have caused problems elsewhere in the 17-country eurozone.