Bernard Arnault, France’s Wealthiest Man, Shifts Assets To Belgium In Likely Tax Dodge

  @Gooch700 on January 24 2013 3:03 PM
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    Bernard Arnault. Reuters
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Bernard Arnault, the wealthiest man in France and the chairman of luxury giant Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), has already transferred the bulk of his assets to neighboring Belgium apparently to protest the high income tax rates that the French Prime Minister Francois Hollande wants to impose on millionaires.

The French paper La liberation reported that Arnault -- who is worth some $41-billion, according to The Independent newspaper -- moved his assets to Belgium in complex transactions that closed on December 7, 2011.

Arnault, who has long threatened to quit France over the 75 percent super-tax that Hollande seeks to slap on anyone earning more than 1 million euros annually, follows the example of famous actor Gerard Depardieu who has already decamped for Belgium.

Belgium has an income tax rate of 50 percent.

Nicolas Demorand, the editor of Libération, did not take kindly to Arnault’s departure, accusing him of "forgetting the country which has made him a king" and saying he runs the risk of “fuelling suspicions about him which could harm the image of his brands and weaken the employees who bring them to life."

However, according to the Guardian of the UK, a spokesman for the 63-year-old perfume mogul denied that he pulled up stakes purely to avoid paying higher taxes.

The Guardian said that unnamed sources claim that Arnault moved to Belgium to avoid family disputes that could arise from his estate when he dies.

Meanwhile, there is some confusion over whether Paris really wants to institute the new super tax.

Europe 1 Radio said that the government has already scrapped the idea, while Elysee Palace said it will go through parliament. In December, a French court declared the proposed tax “unconstitutional.”

Meanwhile, there are doubts regarding Arnault’s future in Belgium.

Belgian authorities have already rejected an application from Arnault for citizenship, citing he must reside in the country for at least three years.

L’Office des Etrangers, the Belgian government agency that handles such affairs, will reconsider his application in the spring.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Belgian prosecutors would like to deny Arnault citizenship.

"Mr. Arnault doesn't fulfill our criteria [for citizenship]," a spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor's office said.

She also confirmed earlier reports in Belgian media that prosecutors have started a probe into Arnault’s business dealings in Belgium, without providing details.

The Independent newspaper of the UK reported that about five hundred other very well-heeled Frenchmen are also seeking to become Belgians.

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