Gerard Depardieu, the French actor who says he is quitting his homeland to avoid higher taxes for the rich, has received a Russian passport and met with President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin said on Sunday.
Depardieu met Putin, who earlier granted him citizenship, at the Russian leader’s residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Saturday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
But Putin did not personally deliver the document to the actor during what was “a short meeting”, Peskov said.
Depardieu “was handed his passport”, Peskov said without providing detail.
National television broadcast images of the Sochi meeting featuring Depardieu and Putin hugging each other and sharing a meal at Putin’s residence.
Dressed casually in a white shirt and a dark jacket, Depardieu asked the Russian strongman whether he had seen a film about the mysterious Tsarist monk Grigory Rasputin played by the French actor.
“Did you see the movie at all?” Depardieu asked in remarks translated into Russian, appearing to use the familiar form of address to speak to Putin.
The film is a France-Russia co-production about a monk who was famous for his mystical influence over Russia’s last Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra and was assassinated in December 1916 by a group of discontented aristocrats.
In a separate statement, the Kremlin said “the actor is in Russia on a private visit”.
Russia’s decision to grant citizenship to the star of Cyrano de Bergerac, Green Card and the Asterix and Obelix series was the latest volley in a highly publicised row between the actor and the French government over its attempt to raise the tax rate on earnings of more than one million euros (US$1.3 million) to 75 per cent.
When Depardieu first announced he would leave the country to avoid the tax, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault branded the move “pathetic”.
Earlier this week Russian television broadcast a letter in which the former Oscar nominee declared his love for Putin and called Russia a “great democracy”.
The Kremlin move and the actor’s subsequent comments praising Russia sparked amusement and disbelief among many in the country.
“He is impressed by our democracy – he has completely lost his marbles,” wrote one Facebook user, Vladimir Sokolov.
Depardieu, who can easily earn up to two million euros per film and who has extensive business interests in France and elsewhere, will qualify for the 13 per cent tax rate if he spends at least six months of the year in Russia.
The annual tax rate will go up to 30 per cent on all income made locally and in other countries if he spends more than half the year abroad.
The eccentric actor has been a huge star in Russia since the Soviet era and still enjoys cult status among many movie buffs.
In a surreal twist to the saga over Depardieu’s move into tax exile, cinema legend Brigitte Bardot earlier this week threatened to follow him out of France unless two elephants under threat of being put down are granted a reprieve.
The two elephants face being put down because they have been diagnosed with tuberculosis and deemed a threat to the health of other animals and visitors to the Tete d’Or Zoo in Lyon.