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France's richest man and LVMH boss denies tax exile bid

10 september 2012, 16:30
France's richest man and LVMH boss Bernard Arnault said Sunday he was not becoming a tax exile, despite seeking Belgian nationality as Paris moves to impose a 75-percent wealth tax, AFP reports.

"I am and will remain a tax resident in France and in this regard I will, like all French people, fulfil my fiscal obligations," the world's fourth-richest man told AFP.

"Our country must count on everyone to do their bit to face a deep economic crisis amid strict budgetary constraints," he said, adding that the bid for dual nationality was "linked to personal reasons" and began several months ago.

Arnault's application comes amid a debate on one of the main pledges that France's President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, made during the election campaign earlier this year -- to impose a 75-percent tax on incomes above one million euros ($1.28 million).

In a televised interview Sunday evening, Hollande commented that Arnault " must weigh up what it means to seek another nationality because we are proud to be French," addingg there would be no exceptions to a 75-percent tax.

"One has to appeal to patriotism during this period," he said.

The head of luxury goods giant LVMH, whose fortune Forbes magazine estimates at $41 billion, was close to France's right-wing former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Following the election of 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.

An informed source told AFP that Arnault's move, whose news was broken by Belgian daily La Libre Belgique was linked to a "sensitive" investment project that could be eased if he acquired Belgian nationality.

Another expert said it could be "linked" to Belgian billionaire Albert Frere, a friend and business partner of Arnault.

The move had been widely condemned by French political parties on both the left and the far-right right as treacherous and one that sends bad signals.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, accused him of "scandalous behaviour".

But Francois Fillon, the prime minister of Hollande's predecessor Sarkozy, denounced "stupid decisions" on the part of the government which lead to "terrible results".

British Prime Minister David Cameron had triggered a war of words with France in June by vowing to "roll out the red carpet" for French firms if Hollande implemented the wealth tax.

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