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"Bonjour! J'aime votre régime fiscal ici!" (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)
Mon Depar-dieu!

Gerard Depardieu officially gets Russian passport and meets Putin

Depardieu and Putin had a meal together and chatted about the actor’s new film.

GERARD DEPARDIEU, THE French actor who has threatened to quit his homeland to avoid higher taxes for the rich, has received a Russian passport and met with President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has confirmed today.

Depardieu met Putin, who earlier granted him citizenship, at the Russian leader’s sumptuous residence in the palm-dotted Black Sea resort of Sochi on Saturday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP.

Putin granted Depardieu “a short meeting” and did not personally deliver the document to the actor, Peskov added without saying where and when Depardieu “was handed his passport.”

National television broadcast images of the Sochi meeting featuring Depardieu and Putin hugging each other and sharing a meal at Putin’s residence.

Dressed casually in a white shirt and a dark jacket, Depardieu asked the Russian strongman whether he had seen a new film about the mysterious Tsarist monk Grigory Rasputin played by the French actor.

“Did you see the movie at all? I had sent (it) to you,” Depardieu said in remarks translated into Russian, appearing to use the familiar form of address to speak to Putin.

The film is a France-Russia co-production about a monk who was famous for his mystical influence over Russia’s last Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra and was assassinated in December 1916 by a group of discontented aristocrats.

“Gerard, are you pleased with your work?” Putin, who also wore a shirt without a tie, asked the actor.

“I am very much pleased with everything,” Depardieu replied, praising the Russian actors who co-starred with him in the movie.

Oleg Dobrodeyev, chief of state television broadcaster VGTRK, who was also present at the meeting, said the film would be released to the general public in May.

Row over income tax

Moscow’s decision to grant citizenship to the star of Cyrano de Bergerac, Green Card and the Asterix and Obelix series was the latest volley in a row between the actor and the French government over its attempt to raise the tax rate on earnings of more than €1 million to 75 percent.

(AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

When Depardieu first announced he would leave the country to avoid the tax, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault branded the move “pathetic”.

Depardieu, who can easily earn up to two million euros per film and who has extensive business interests in France and elsewhere, will qualify for the 13 per cent tax rate if he spends at least six months of the year in Russia.

Earlier this week Russian television broadcast the contents of a letter in which the former Oscar nominee declared his love for Putin and called Russia a “great democracy”.

The Kremlin move and the actor’s comments praising Russia sparked amusement and disbelief among many in the country.

Unsavoury behaviour’

The eccentric actor has been a huge star in Russia since the Soviet era and still enjoys cult status among many movie buffs.

But in recent years, he has also raised many eyebrows with his often unsavoury behaviour.

In 2011, Depardieu shocked passengers on a Paris to Dublin flight when he relieved himself on the cabin floor.

He was arrested last November after falling off his scooter, which he had been riding while more than three times over the legal alcohol limit.

Last October he attended a concert in Chechnya on its leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s birthday accused by activists of heavy-handed tactics towards his critics and spoke on stage in broken Russian, saying: “Glory to Grozny, glory to Chechnya… Glory to Kadyrov!”

Depardieu is also planning to star in a historic serial penned by the eldest daughter of Uzbekistan’s strongman President Islam Karimov.

Critics branded the move to grant Depardieu citizenship as a PR stunt aimed at deflecting public attention from Putin’s recent decision to ban adoptions of Russian children by US citizens.

In a surreal twist to the saga over Depardieu’s move, cinema legend Brigitte Bardot this week threatened to follow him out of France unless two elephants under threat of being put down are granted a reprieve.

- © AFP, 2012

Read: Save the elephants or I’ll move to Russia, Brigitta Bardot tells France >

Read: Depardieu granted Russian citizenship after fleeing French tax hike >

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