Depardieu, now Russian citizen, welcomed warmly

Gerard Depardieu, the French actor who sought Russian citizenship to avoid a millionaires tax in France, arrived in Saransk, Russia, Sunday. Depardieu has been welcomed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as Russian citizens.

Yulia Chestnova/Reuters
French film star Gerard Depardieu shows his passport after arriving at the airport in the town of Saransk, southeast of Moscow, Jan. 6. Depardieu received a hug from Russia's President Vladimir Putin and a new Russian passport on Sunday after abandoning his homeland to avoid a new tax rate for millionaires.

The day after receiving his new Russian passport from President Vladimir Putin, French actor Gerard Depardieu flew Sunday to the provincial town of Saransk, where he was greeted as a local hero and offered an apartment for free.

Depardieu had sought Russian citizenship as part of his battle against a proposed super tax on millionaires in France.

Putin granted his request last week and then welcomed the actor late Saturday to his residence in Sochi, the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Russian television showed the two men embracing and then chatting over supper, discussing a soon-to-be-released film in which Depardieu plays Russian monk Grigory Rasputin.

Depardieu flew Sunday to Saransk, a town about 300 miles east of Moscow, where he was met at a snow-covered airport by the governor and a group of women in traditional costume singing folk songs. He flashed his new passport to the crowd before setting out on a tour of the town.

The governor invited Depardieu to settle in Saransk and offered him an apartment of his choice, according to reports on state television.

Depardieu has not said where he would take up residence in Russia, only that he did not want to live in Moscow because it is too big and he prefers a village.

The Frenchman has spent a fair bit of time in Russia in recent years, including for the filming of the French-Russian film "Rasputin," and he expresses an admiration for Putin. But it is Russia's flat 13 percent income tax that appears to be the biggest draw at the moment as he flees high taxes in France.

France's new Socialist government tried to raise the tax on income above €1 million ($1.3 million) to 75 percent from the current 41 percent. That plan was struck down by the highest court, but Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac said Sunday that the government is reworking the law so the superrich will still be asked to pay an elevated rate. He said the government is also considering putting the new tax in place for longer than the two years initially imagined.

"I find it a bit pathetic that for tax reasons this man — whom by the way I admire infinitely as an actor — has decided to exile himself," Cahuzac said.

Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris contributed to this report.

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