In completely unexpected news, the fourth richest man in the world, the richest man in France, Bernard Arnault, is reportedly applying for a Belgian passport. Arnault emigrated to the United States during the last Socialist presidency in 1981. For some unexplained reason, the business magnate hasn’t picked our country this time around.
Arnault, who owns Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs (among many other luxury companies), has been reported to be worth anywhere from $26 to $41 billion. He denies the move is an attempt to dodge the French Socialists’ planned 75 percent tax rate on high earners. And this piece makes a good case that he might be telling the truth.
But why wouldn???t he move? (I’ve defended Eduardo Saverin in the past for a similar sin.)
Francois Fillon, Nicolas Sarkozy’s former prime minister, recently said that there will be an ???exodus of fiscal fugitives??? due to the President Francois Hollande’s proposed huge tax hike on the wealthy. “You only have to go to London to see all the young French people who have left because they sense that France is a country with no room for those who succeed,” he went on.
Arnault???s bid for duel citizenship has created a media frenzy. The Left in France, as they do so often over here, argue that paying taxes is patriotic. Leader of the far-right National Front, Marine le Pen, agreed, accusing Arnault of ???scandalous behavior.???
The Liberation newspaper ran a front-page headline that said ???Get lost, rich bastard??? (or something similar):
The headline, superimposed on a photo of the smiling Mr Arnault carrying a red suitcase, is a play on a comment by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who publicly muttered “Casse-toi, pov’ con” (“Get lost, you poor idiot”) at a man who refused to shake his hand.
Arnault is suing the paper for “public insult” of “vulgarity and brutality.”
Why would Arnault choose Belgium? There could be personal reasons, of course, but please note this quote from Businessweek:
???I have at least one client who is becoming Belgian for strictly precautionary reasons,??? said Arnaud Jamin, a tax lawyer at Fidal law firm in Paris who said he doesn???t have knowledge of Arnault???s case.
The billionaire???s plans spotlight France???s constantly changing, politically-driven taxation, said Jamin.
???Belgium has fiscal stability,??? Jamin said. ???That???s very important. In France, taxation changes all the time, and politicians play on announcements. That puts wealth at risk.???
I’m not exactly sure what Jamin means when he says “politicians play on announcements” but it feels very familiar.