France's richest man turns to Belgium as wealth tax looms

8th September 2012, Comments 1 comment

Bernard Arnault, the richest man in France and the world's fourth-wealthiest, has applied for Belgian nationality as Paris moves to impose a 75-percent wealth tax, reports said Saturday.

The 63-year-old billionaire head of the LVMH luxury goods empire filed an application with parliament last week to become a naturalised Belgian citizen, the La Libre Belgique daily quoted a senior official as saying.

"The file will be treated the same as all the others," Georges Dallemagne, the head of the naturalisation commission, told the paper. "We currently have 47,000 before us."

Belgian legislation requires applicants for citizenship to have had at least three years residency in Belgium, barring which they need to prove ties to the country, Dallemagne said.

Arnault lives in Paris and has a home in Brussels, the daily said.

His application comes amid a debate on one of the main pledges that France's President Francois Hollande made during the election campaign earlier this year -- to impose a 75-percent tax on incomes above one million euros.

Press reports this week said that the government was looking to water down the measure by raising the threshold to two million euros for couples and excluding capital gains.

But on Friday Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici vowed that the campaign promise would be "strictly" implemented.

The new tax is due to be included in the 2013 budget, which the government expects to finalise later this month.

Arnault, whose fortune is estimated to stand at 41 billion dollars by Forbes magazine, was a close ally of France's former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Following the election of France's previous Socialist president Francois Mitterrand in 1981, Arnault lived in the United States for three years, returning to France after the Socialists switched to a more conservative economic course.

© 2012 AFP

1 Comment To This Article

  • DavidSLesperance posted:

    on 10th September 2012, 21:52:47 - Reply

    Bernard Arnault is packing a fiscal parachute. If he decides to leap out of the French plane, with a Belgian passport, he will have all the necessary elements to properly leave the French tax system.If France decides to tax based on citizenship (like the US) then he has another passport in place so he will not be stateless. He can also give up his French passport, so that he will only have a Belgian one and thereby properly have left the French tax regime under the France-Belgian tax treaty.

    With the French tax system in a high likelihood of hitting him hard, this is just smart self-protection. As for French politicians, as Samuel Johnson famously said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel". As for those people who say "good riddance", I would point out to you that a progressive tax system like that of France, the US and the UK has the natural result that the top 1% of tax payers contribute over 30% of the personal tax revenue collected. Therefore, losing a super-contributor like Mr. Arnault would have a huge negative asymmetric impact on tax revenues. Before you call him names (which is not going to inspire him to stay), you may want to think about how you are going to replace the 10s of millions in annual tax revenue he provides.