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French star Depardieu ditches France for Putin's Russia

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 11:36 AM EST, Fri January 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Gerard Depardieu has been granted Russian citizenship by Vladimir Putin
  • The French silver screen icon deserted France over a proposed tax hike on the richest
  • The actor claims to have paid 85% in taxes in 2012

(CNN) -- French movie icon Gerard Depardieu is now a Russian.

He is best known to U.S. movie fans for his starring role in the 1990 comedy "Green Card," in which the character he plays marries an American woman -- played by Andie MacDowell -- to be allowed permanent residence in the States.

Depardieu may never become a documented immigrant in the U.S., but the star announced Friday he accepted Russian citizenship after Vladimir Putin granted it to him personally by presidential decree, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Read more: Hollande under pressure to show hand

French tax hike protest
Putin gives Depardieu citizenship

The movie star and businessman recently fled his native France in a high-profile protest of government plans for a tax hike on the richest. He moved just across the border to the town of Nechin, Belgium, and ditched his French citizenship.

Putin's offer stems from a quip the actor made to a French newspaper two weeks ago about citizenship offers from other countries. "Putin has already sent me a passport," he joked to Le Monde. He and Putin are friends.

Read more: France's tax laws will lead to 'brain drain'

The Russian president pounced on the wisecrack the very next day, saying that if Depardieu wants in, then he's in, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Putin had Thursday's decree posted to his website:

"In accordance with clause 'a' of article 89 of the Russian Constitution, the application for Russian citizenship by Gerard Xavier Depardieu born in France in 1948 has been granted."

France's socialist administration wants to raise taxes on citizens earning more than 1 million euros ($1.3 million) annually to 75%. The Russian federation has a flat income tax rate of 13%, RIA Novosti reported.

Depardieu has worked in Russia before, appearing in a historical film on czarist Russia and in ad campaigns. His father was a Communist, and as a child, before the fall of the Iron Curtain, he listened to Radio Moscow.

He has promised to start learning Russian and in a letter to journalists gushed with praise for his new society, RIA Novosti reported. "I adore your country, Russia, your people, your history, your writers...I adore your culture, your way of thinking."

And he wrote that he spoke with "his" President Francois Hollande about the decision. "He knows that I love your President Vladimir Putin," Depardieu wrote, according to RIA Novosti, "and that feeling is mutual."

Read more: France raises taxes on rich

Depardieu is a cultural icon in France, and his departure has triggered a hailstorm of public criticism for and against him. It reignited the discussion on the tax code.

He abandoned his citizenship in an emotional, sweeping open letter addressed to French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that was published in mid-December in the Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche.

"Sadly, I no longer belong here," he wrote, "but I will continue to love the French public, with whom I have shared so many emotions. I'm leaving because you believe that success, creativity, talent -- what makes people individual -- must be punished."

He asserted that he has always paid his taxes, claiming they totaled 145 million euros over the past 45 years. In addition to his million-dollar acting fees, Depardieu has revenues from companies he said he owns that give work to a total of 80 employees.

"I leave after having paid, in 2012, 85% tax on my income," he wrote, triggering at least one fact check in the French press.

With his citizenship, Depardieu bequeathed in the letter his social security benefits to the state. He has left France to become "a true European, a citizen of the world."

Depardieu has been one of the quintessential faces of the French silver screen for decades. His large, clefted nose, broad smile, beaming eyes, longish blond hair, hefty physique and bodacious mannerisms are uniquely his own and have left their imprint on the French cinema and stage.

He has played in at least 195 films since 1967, according to the Internet Movie Database, and starred in every genre from happy-go-lucky comedies to tragedies. He has helped bring French historic epics such as "Napoleon" and "Germinal" to life.

Depardieu has received numerous acting awards and has even been knighted.

But he has also been known for audacious escapades under the influence of alcohol, such as urinating on the floor of an airplane about to take off and reportedly trashing an automobile with his bare hands.

In his open letter to France and its politicians, he admits to foibles in his lifestyle and love life but is unapologetic.

He has also suffered family tragedies. He lost his heroin-addicted son to pneumonia. He left his wife, and he and his daughter are reportedly estranged.

According to media reports, Depardieu has received citizenship offers from other countries.

His next movie, which IMDb describes as a "thriller" is to release this year and bears the title "Foreign Affairs."

CNN's Neda Farshbaf, Niki Cook, Saskya Vandoorne, Jim Bittermann and Joseph Netto contributed to this report.

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