Depardieu offered home amid gulags to escape French tax

Jan 7, 2013

Russian region of Mordovia offers French actor a choice of apartments, felt boots and two kittens

GERARD DEPARDIEU appears to have escaped France’s proposed super-tax on the rich by becoming a Russian citizen. But does he really want to live in Mordovia, known for its Stalin-era prison camps?

The French actor collected his Russian passport from President Vladimir Putin in Moscow yesterday and then flew to Saransk, a snow-covered city in Mordovia, where local governor Vladimir Volkov said he could choose an apartment or a place to build a house.

The actor's tax row began last year after President Francois Hollande said he would raise taxes to 75 per cent for those earning more than 1m euros a year. If Depardieu lives in Russia for at least six months each year he will pay just 13 per cent in income tax.

Waving his new passport, Depardieu was reportedly welcomed to Saransk yesterday evening by women wearing national costumes and serving blini. He was presented with a pair of felt boots and two kittens.

The region is best known for its Stalin-era gulags and, according to the BBC, harsh prisons are still Mordovia's principal employer.

The Daily Telegraph has previously described Mordovia as "dotted with mosquito-infested lakes" and its labour camps have been compared to Nazi concentration camps. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the punk band Pussy Riot, is currently serving her sentence there.

But Depardieu is not complaining. "I am very happy," he said. "It's very beautiful here, beautiful and soulful people live here."

It looks like he might have Brigette Bardot for company, too. The former screen siren has also threatened to quit France and become a Russian citizen – in protest not at tax hikes but at the treatment of two circus elephants.

According to The Guardian, a court in Lyon has ordered the two animals to be put down, as they are thought to be carrying tuberculosis. But Bardot says if the elephants have to be killed, she will ask for Russian nationality to get out of France, which she says has become "nothing more than an animal cemetery".

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Well, mister Depardieu first wanted to go for the Belgian citizenship after already having bought a house in Estampuis (Belgium). Since he has obtained his Russian passport now, I guess Belgium will have to continue without the formidable presence of film hero Obelix. I sincerely hope my beloved country will survive this terrible loss... But there is a positive aspect too: I heard our wild boars have been jubilating after hearing the news of Depardieu's "adieu". Besides, there is another opportunity: maybe your mister Nigel Farage would like to get our passport, since he is a so devoted fan of Mr. Herman Van Rompuy.