France's richest man drops bid to become Belgian: Report

PARIS (AFP) - France's richest man Bernard Arnault has withdrawn his application for Belgian citizenship, he said in an interview on Wednesday, after the move caused a huge outcry in the country.

The head of luxury group LVMH, Mr Arnault applied for the citizenship last year as Paris moved to impose a 75 per cent tax on incomes above one million euros (S$1.6 million), although he had always denied doing it for tax reasons.

"I explained several times that I would remain a resident in France and that I would continue to pay my taxes there. In vain - the message did not get through," he told Le Monde newspaper.

"Today, I have decided to clear any ambiguity. I am withdrawing my demand for Belgian citizenship."

The move comes as debate about tax havens rages in France, which is reeling from a major tax fraud scandal after former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac admitted having an undeclared bank account abroad.

News that Mr Arnault was seeking Belgian citizenship came to light in September and was widely condemned by French political parties on both the left and the far-right.

At the time, newspaper Liberation published a scathing front page denouncing Mr Arnault, complete with the headline "Get lost, you rich idiot!"

Mr Arnault - the world's 10th-richest person with a fortune estimated at US$29 billion (S$36 billion), according to Forbes - is just one of several personalities to have recently caused controversy over plans to take up other nationalities.

Actor Gerard Depardieu, for instance, announced late last year that he was moving abroad due to the proposed 75 per cent tax rate and giving up his French passport.

Since then the tax plan has been struck down as unconstitutional but the government has vowed to present a new proposal that would see it charged to employers instead of individuals.

In the interview, Mr Arnault said France should be more understanding of entrepreneurs and business people.

"In France, no matter if the government is left- or right-wing, they (entrepreneurs) are not thought highly of. We are like footballers, not CEOs," he said.

"Mr Tata (founder of Tata Group) is a star in India, like Warren Buffett in the United States. In Germany, the UK or in the US, they condemn poverty to better fight it, while in France we condemn wealth."

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