The tax refugee
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Gerard Depardieu could be the only tax refugee ever to be welcomed by two nations. Last year, rather than shedding weight to balance its books, the government of Francois Hollande had proposed to heavily tax citizens who earn over a million euros. In retaliation, the indefatigable star, seen most recently in Life of Pi, had threatened to quit his native France. In June, his friend Vladimir Putin handed him a Russian passport and now, the town of Nechin in Belgium has accepted him as a resident. This was formalised at a party Depardieu gave for 200 neighbours which, going by paparazzi pictures, appears to have been pretty much devastating.
The actor got a two-for-one deal, which makes him the most successful in a long line of showbiz personalities who became taxation asylum seekers. The English have traditionally fled as soon as they tasted success. Bad Company, Michael Caine, Rod Stewart and the Beatles went to the US, Jethro Tull to France and David Bowie to Switzerland. Refugee traffic flowed west to east, too. Marvin Gaye moved to England and Shirley Bassey to Monaco. Last year, as Facebook headed for its IPO, co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced US citizenship and moved to Singapore for its flat tax rate.
Now, extraordinary personal wealth flows not only from stardom and despotism but from many sources, including strategic investments like Saverin's. Tax exile is being democratised and could become distressingly common. Meanwhile, governments are routinely cash-strapped as they flounder in a financially restless world. To elude their designs, future refugees may have to be radically imaginative, like Hotblack Desiato, the rocker in Douglas Adams's The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, who spent a year on a "death support system" for tax reasons.
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